SCENARIOS-Obama may get few more big 2010 wins in Congress

Fri Apr 23, 2010 3:27pm EDT

* Obama may win crackdown on Wall Street

* May get a few more major 2010 victories

* Tough to find much common ground before election day

By Thomas Ferraro

WASHINGTON, April 23 (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate is moving toward tightening regulation of the financial industry, which if it becomes law would give President Barack Obama a big victory in Congress after his healthcare overhaul in March.

But chances are slim that lawmakers will pass much other major legislation before the November congressional elections.

With Democrats and Republicans jockeying for position, it is going to be tough to find much common ground on matters from immigration to deficit reduction to climate change.

Here's a look at what Congress faces before Election Day -- and what it may actually do.

FINANCIAL REFORM

While there was a solid wall of Republican opposition to Obama's healthcare overhaul, at least a few members of the minority are expected to support legislation to toughen regulation of the financial industry.

A measure of this will come as early as on Monday at a procedural vote in the Senate on whether to begin debate on the reform, aimed at curbing Wall Street excesses.

Politicians, particularly in an election year, do not want to be seen as defending Wall Street, blamed by many for triggering the financial crisis.

Ethan Siegal of The Washington Exchange, a private firm that tracks Congress and the White House for institutional investors, said he has raised chances for passage of financial reform before lawmakers' August recess from 50-50 to 60-40.

"We would be higher except that the 'Big Picture Campaign 2010' political dynamic for the congressional Republicans is at its core a strategy to oppose and defeat all major Democratic Party policy initiatives in order to make President Obama and the congressional Democrats look weak and incapable of governing," Siegal wrote to clients.

SUPREME COURT

If history is any indication, chances are strong the Senate will confirm Obama's nominee, not yet named, to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, a liberal.

According to the Senate historian's office, there have been 159 Supreme Court nominations since creation of the high court more than two centuries ago, and 123 have been confirmed.

Obama has said he will announce his nominee by the end of May. He said his pick must back women's rights but would not have to pass a "litmus test" on abortion rights.

To avoid a brawl with Republicans, the nominee is unlikely to be as liberal as Stevens, 90, one of the oldest and longest serving justices ever.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, who will preside over the confirmation hearing, told Reuters earlier this month he was confident any of the potential picks Obama was then considering would be confirmed.

Democrats control 59 of 100 Senate seats. Republicans could raise a procedural roadblock that would take 60 votes to clear. They haven't ruled out such a move, but say it is unlikely.

U.S. Solicitor General Elena Kagan and U.S. appeals court judges Merrick Garland and Diane Wood are among those most often mentioned as possible nominees.

CLIMATE CHANGE

The odds are against Congress approving comprehensive legislation this year to battle global warming.

But that is not stopping Senators John Kerry, a Democrat, Lindsey Graham, a Republican, and Joseph Lieberman, an independent, from trying to craft such a measure. They are expected to unveil a possible compromise as early as on Monday.

Their goal is to bring the United States into a global effort to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases blamed for global warming.

The challenges the energy/environment bill face are huge: There is not much time for the Senate to debate and pass such a wide-ranging bill amid a busy agenda; senators running for re-election this year do not want to vote on a measure that would raise energy prices; there are big disagreements among senators on the best approaches.

JOBS

Well aware their own jobs are on the line, Democrats intend to keep pushing legislation to reduce the 9.7 percent U.S. unemployment rate.

Democrats have won bipartisan passage of a number of incremental job-creation bills. But they do not have the support for major legislation, which critics would denounce as more "big government" spending that would add to the record federal deficit.

IMMIGRATION

Obama is under pressure to keep a campaign promise to revamp the U.S. immigration system.

But figuring out a way to tighten border security while providing some path to U.S. citizenship for illegal immigrants may be too hot to handle before the election.

Democratic Senator Charles Schumer and Republican Lindsey Graham have sought to craft a deal that could draw broad bipartisan support.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has vowed to push ahead with immigration reform. But Graham says the Senate isn't ready for it. He accused the Nevada Democrat of trying to placate Hispanic voters before the November elections.

DEFICIT REDUCTION

Democrats and Republicans agree the federal deficit needs to be cut, but to do it would likely require the will to raise taxes and reduce spending.

No such political courage, at least not enough to win congressional approval, is expected before Election Day.

CAMPAIGN FINANCE

Obama and fellow Democrats in Congress denounced the Supreme Court ruling this year that allows corporations and unions to spend unlimited amounts of money for and against candidates.

With the backing of the White House, Democrats in the House and Senate plan to introduce legislation as early as on Monday that would require greater transparency and disclosure of contributions and require the heads of organizations to declare they approved the ad in the same way candidates must.

But with Congress busy on other fronts, there is little chance it would have time to pass such legislation this year.

Prospects may be better next year -- provided Democrats can drum up needed support from Republicans to clear possible Senate procedural roadblocks.

ARMS TREATY

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday will hold the first of what promises to be a series of hearings on the new START nuclear arms reduction.

Ratification of the pact between the United States and Russia could take months. But supporters are confident the treaty, which requires 67 votes to be ratified by the Senate, will win approval.

(Additional reporting by Richard Cowan, Andy Sullivan and Susan Cornwell; editing by Vicki Allen)

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