WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Business groups that oppose landmark financial reform legislation will launch a final barrage over the next week with a final barrage of grass-roots lobbying in the home states of key senators.
After passing the House of Representatives this week, the reform legislation must now clear the Senate before President Barack Obama can sign it into law. But Senate Democrats have yet to lock down the 60 votes needed to avoid any Republican attempt to kill a bill that would bring the biggest overhaul of the U.S. financial industry since the Great Depression.
As senators headed home for a week-long July 4 recess, the powerful U.S. Chamber of Commerce unveiled a campaign on Thursday aimed mainly at encouraging five senators — four Republicans and one Democrat — who to oppose the bill.
The business group is hoping to tap public sentiment as a last-ditch effort to derail the bill.
The campaign provides the chamber’s 3 million business members with online guidance on lawmakers’ public schedules during the recess, talking points and draft letters that cast the bill’s restriction on financial derivatives and consumer protection as dangers to small businesses and consumers.
The targeted lawmakers — Republicans Scott Brown, Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins and Charles Grassley, and Democrat Maria Cantwell — have not definitively said how they intend to vote after the Senate reconvenes on July 12.
“We want to make sure lawmakers know that both the Chamber and its members are going to hold them accountable for this vote,” said Amanda Engstrom of the Chamber’s Capital Markets Division.
The last-minute push echoes efforts by groups to kill the health-care reform legislation that eventually passed earlier this year. Lawmakers’ townhall meetings turned into free-for-alls with angry voters venting fears about government-sponsored “death panels.”
The Chamber of Commerce is not alone in its efforts.
Two other major trade groups, the Credit Union National Association and the American Bankers Association, are also urging their members to contact senators with their misgivings about the bill’s restrictions on debit card interchange fees and other issues that could cost billions of dollars in lost revenues for the financial industry.
Lobbyists for Wall Street firms such as JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs and Bank of America are also circulating a study that predicts businesses will face $1 trillion in additional costs from the tighter capital and margin requirements the bill imposes on big players in the derivatives market.
This week’s death of Democratic Senator Robert Byrd and the unexpected reopening of the House-Senate conference bill upset Democratic plans to have the legislation approved and on Obama’s desk by July 4.
The delay heartened some reform opponents by providing space for another chance to defeat or at least weaken the legislation.
In a bid to head off opponents, reform advocates have also stepped up pressure on lawmakers. A public interest group in Massachusetts accused Brown of cozying up to Wall Street on Thursday and offered him the chance to trade in his pickup truck-driving, regular-guy image for a new BMW.
Despite the theatrics, analysts and lobbyists doubt the campaigns will have much effect on the final outcome.
Two major grass-roots forces from the business world — auto dealers and community banks — pulled back their criticism of the bill after securing carve-outs to protect their interests.
Some of the lawmakers in question could ultimately declare their support for the bill because they have benefited from the negotiations.
Collins succeeded in getting her amendment for stronger capital requirements into the legislation, while Snowe — who like Collins is from Maine — won concessions to ease the impact on small businesses.
Collins has said she was inclined to support the bill, while Snowe has said it was a “possibility” she could vote for it.
Brown himself secured carve-out deals from the Volcker rule on proprietary trading for mutual funds, insurance companies and banks in his state. Brown has declined to indicate how he will vote.
Cantwell, the only Democrat still being wooed, is unlikely to be swayed by business lobbying because she favors stronger reform restrictions. Cantwell had voted against the bill earlier, but has said she might reconsider.
“It really comes down to the two Maine senators and Scott Brown,” said Tom Mann of the Brookings Institution.
“All of them got a lot in the final package. And the interests in their states for whom they delivered would not be happy I think to see a collapse at this point,” he said. “But you never know. It’s not over till it’s over.”
Additional reporting by Kevin Drawbaugh, Andy Sullivan and Roberta Rampton; Editing by Leslie Adler