Conference committee gets back to business

CONFERENCE COMMITTEE GETS BACK TO BUSINESS…. Late last week, members of a House-Senate conference committee worked through the night, wrapping up a 20-hour marathon session to complete their work on Wall Street reform. At 5:39 a.m. on Friday, before much of Washington was even awake, a final package was complete, and the goal of having the bill on President Obama’s desk by the 4th of July was right on track.

Or so we thought. First, Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) died, depriving reform supporters of a key vote. Second, Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) decided to reverse course on the bill (for a third time). The Massachusetts Republican worked behind closed doors last week, secretly pushing a provision to exempt some major Massachusetts financial firms from new regulations. He ended up walking away anyway, complaining about a modest fee on banks that would have kept the deficit down.

Left with no choice, the conference committee that was done with its work is headed back to the table.

In an extraordinary move aimed at winning over reluctant Republican senators, the top Democratic negotiators on the Wall Street reform bill will reopen the conference committee Tuesday to swap out a controversial $19 billion tax on big banks, according to House and Senate aides.

The unusual development points to deepening troubles for Democrats in their push to finish the bill before the July 4 recess. […]

The committee is expected to meet at 5 p.m., a Democratic aide said. And House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.) said that the emerging compromise would give Democrats 60 votes in the Senate for the package.

By all appearances, conference committee members will effectively have a single task: find a way to get $19 billion to pay for the reform effort that doesn’t come from a bank fee. One possibility is shutting down the TARP program, and using unspent funds.

Some in the leadership would still like to have this done before the end of the week, but most seem to agree that the deadline may not be realistic. That said, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs agreed that while the work may not be done until after lawmakers return from their break, “I don’t think there is now a question whether it will be done — it’s when it will be done.”