This post has been updated
GOP Senator Bob Corker was emphatic on Wednesday that Republicans missed a big opportunity to influence what is perhaps the most ambitious financial reform bill to pass through the Senate since the Great Depression.
Republicans declined to offer any amendments during Monday's scheduled mark-up of the bill, choosing instead to vote against sending the legislation to the Senate floor strictly along party lines. It passed out of the Senate Banking Committee with 13 Democrats in favor and 10 Republicans opposed.
Failing to reach a bipartisan deal in committee was "a very large strategic mistake," the Tennessee senator told reporters after his speech before a U.S. Chamber of Commerce summit in Washington. Declining to offer amendments, and then passing the bill out of committee along party lines, "talks about how dysfunctional, how dysfunctional we have been as a committee and the Senate has been in addressing this issue," Corker said in reference to financial reform.
Prior to Monday's meeting, Corker told the Huffington Post that, "You're probably going to witness one of the most dysfunctional committee meetings in Senate history."
On Wednesday, his tone remained the same.
"We had an opportunity to pass out a bill out of our committee in a bipartisan way, and then stand on the Senate floor and hold hands and say that we would keep amendments that were unnecessary and improper from coming onto this bill," Corker said. "Instead of that, it's been decided that we are going to try to negotiate now ...
"I think it's going to be far more difficult now that this has passed out of committee ... I think we have made a very, very large mistake, and I regret that."
Banking committee Chairman Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) told HuffPost that "what [Corker] said was his Republican leadership abandoned him."
"They decided they wanted to say 'No' again," Dodd said. "So we went ahead ... If you don't even want to offer yours, I couldn't -- if anyone wanted to offer amendments, I would have been there. They made a decision not to. That was their call. Not mine. And listen, I understand why they wanted to do it."
Part of Corker's regret going forward stems from the difficulty that Republicans may have in staying unified.
"It's going to be very, very difficult -- very difficult -- to get 41 members to hold, especially, especially if many of the provisions in this bill address concerns that everyday people on Main Street have," said Corker. "That's why I thought it was so important to leave that committee -- maybe lose three Republicans, lose three Democrats -- but to end up with a middle-of-the-road bill that we can all hold hands and fight off amendments."
After talks between Dodd and the top Republican on the committee, Richard Shelby of Alabama, hit an impasse, Dodd reached out to Corker. The two began negotiating on the bill, but again Dodd and a Republican failed to reach agreement.
The sticking point has been the proposed consumer financial protection agency, a dedicated entity to be charged with protecting borrowers from abusive lenders. Progressive Democrats want an independent agency to look after consumers; Republicans -- and some bank-friendly Democrats -- want the new unit to either be a part of a bank regulator, subject to the whims of a bank regulator, or simply not be formed at all. Corker, like Shelby, opposes an independent agency. Corker has called it a "nonstarter."
The political problem, Corker said, is that the fight to fix the nation's broken financial system is fundamentally different from the fight to reform health care or health insurance.
"You don't pull the game book out for health care -- I'm sorry -- and apply that to financial reform. And anybody who's thought that -- and unfortunately I think there have been people who've thought that -- are way mistaken. I'm sorry -- there's a whole different dynamic around financial reform," Corker said. "That's why I've worked so hard and, you know, almost begged Chairman Dodd ... to please let's do this in a bipartisan way."
Republicans had their chance, but squandered it, he said. Asked about the deal apparently reached over the weekend to not offer any amendments, Corker said: "To be candid, by the time this weekend came, the real issue was when will the negotiations end."
"The leverage that existed up until Monday night is gone, and I think it's far more difficult to get us where we need to go as a country, and I regret that," he added.
But last week, the president and CEO of the American Bankers Association, Ed Yingling, had a different perspective, arguing that the more time passes, the more emboldened Republicans can be.
"From the Republicans' point of view every week that passes is, say Senator Shelby, more leverage. And a lot of what this is about is leverage to get your best deal," Yingling told a crowd of bankers at an ABA summit. "So it's in the interest of the Republicans to slow things down because that gives them more leverage to negotiate."
Asked if the decision not to debate the bill Monday was "the [Republican] leadership's initiative ... or Senator Shelby's," Corker replied:
"You know, for some reason ... I don't know, you can probe into this yourself, there hasn't been a desire to get us in a bipartisan place, and I find that...let me say this: All I can say is negotiations between Senator Shelby and Senator Dodd just never worked. They never went anywhere. I don't know what the reason was."
But for now, Corker said he'll go along with the Republican leadership.
"I'm going to fold in behind Senator Shelby and continue to work in an appropriate, positive way, and I hope we're going to get there," Corker said. "I'm not giving up. I'm just saying that when a bill leaves a committee like it left this week, without bipartisan support, and it goes to the floor in a dynamic like we have right now, where the White House is very emboldened, I think that creates lots of issues."
*Due to an editing error, this story contained an out-of-context quote. It has since been deleted. Sorry.
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