Posted on Tue, May. 18, 2010
David Lightman | McClatchy Newspapers
WASHINGTON — Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., wants the government to finish building the 700-mile fence between the U.S. and Mexico. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., wants to end the health insurance industry's antitrust protection. West Virginia's two senators want help with mine and oil rig safety.
They all want to add these things to the financial regulatory overhaul bill that's moving through the Senate, even though their ideas have little or nothing to do with oversight of financial markets.
Senators have proposed 326 amendments to the bill, whose chief purpose is to revamp the system that's regulated financial institutions since the Great Depression, but failed to prevent the current deep recession.
The bill could be the last major legislation this Congress approves — and draw enormous media attention — before November's congressional elections. That's why it's attracting a lot of extraneous amendments.
"A lot of senators see this bill as a good forum, and they see the session winding down after this," said David Arkush, the director of Congress Watch, a watchdog group.
Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., the Senate Banking Committee Chairman, saw a darker motive: "This is one way to delay the bill," he said. Senators expect to vote as soon as Wednesday on whether to limit debate in a bid to move to final passage.
Republicans dispute the suggestion that they only want delay. Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., for instance, wants to add an amendment that would postpone a new federal rule requiring government certification for contractors who remove lead paint because there aren't enough courses to train such people.
The amendment isn't an effort to delay the banking bill, said Inhofe spokesman Matt Dempsey.
Then why attach it to this bill?
"Our ability to raise awareness is more limited as Republicans," Dempsey said, because the minority party can't call hearings and doesn't control what's taken up on the Senate floor. "You have to look for opportunities."