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Senate Republicans evaluating tools to tackle Dodd-Frank reform

The Senate Banking Committee has yet to offer any concrete details on a legislative agenda to address Dodd-Frank, the landmark piece of postcrisis financial regulation that Republicans have openly criticized.

But Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., made it clear that Senate Republicans are evaluating the tools at their disposal to overcome an unfavorable filibuster.

"We're having a difficult time finding the eight Democrat senators who would join 52 Republicans and get us to the 60 votes that we need for ordinary legislation," Toomey said in remarks at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce March 30.

Toomey said reconciliation, in which pieces of legislation can be attached to the budget and passed in a straight majority vote, is one option. But Senate Republicans could also jam bills through the chamber by creatively taking advantage of the Congressional Review Act. The CRA allows Congress to repeal regulations within a time frame of 60 legislative days after the rulemaking has been finalized. But Toomey said that the Senate is asking the Government Accountability Office if the issuance of guidance — through FAQs or letters, for example — could count as additional rulemaking, thus reopening the 60 day window for lawmakers to utilize the CRA.

"We can ask [the GAO] whether this rises to the level of importance of a rule for the purposes of the Congressional Review Act," Toomey said. "If they come back and say 'yes it does' then from that day forward, we have 60 legislative days to up or down vote on whether or not to repeal that."

Speaking to reporters after his speech, Toomey said that he was already looking at a number of rules for which agency guidance could subject the original rule to a reopened CRA period. But he clarified that the GAO would need to get back to the Senate on whether or not this legal interpretation is valid.

Toomey's comments hint at an intention to tackle financial regulatory reform though individual legislation, since the filibuster makes it too challenging to tackle the regulatory framework in wholesale form.

"The most likely path forward would be to zero in on that and not try to have a broader Dodd-Frank overhaul," Toomey said. "I think that's probably better to narrow the focus."

But Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, said that he still hopes to have reform come as wholesale bills, although the timing of those bills could be held up by other Senate legislative priorities.

"Major pieces like housing finance reform or economic growth proposals that we will put together in large packages will come in a sequence probably after tax reform," Crapo said, adding that he hoped to see those packages either late this year or early next year. Crapo had no additional details on what would be in those packages.

Crapo, also the chair of the Senate Banking Committee, noted that although both housing finance and economic growth are high on the legislative agenda, one of his top priorities is the reauthorization of the National Flood Insurance Program, which expires this fall.

In the meantime, Senate Republicans will have the opportunity to come up with a cohesive strategy on exactly how to piece regulatory reform together and address long-criticized items like the structure of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and rules like qualified mortgage.

Bill Emerson, vice chairman of Quicken Loans Inc. parent company Rock Holdings Inc, cautioned lawmakers to be careful about how they pursue regulatory reform.

"The debate is, do you use a scalpel or do you use a sledgehammer?" Emerson rhetorically asked. As an example, Emerson said that using a "sledgehammer" to end qualified mortgage would be misguided since its full repeal would create a "wild west" in lending.