WASHINGTON – A fraud lawsuit against Goldman Sachs became a political weapon for Democrats on Monday as they fought for Republican support for a sweeping financial regulatory bill. Republicans remained unswayed in opposition.

Democrats argued that the legislation, aimed at avoiding a recurrence of the 2008 financial crisis, would help prevent financial firms from misleading investors — the charge made by the Securities and Exchange commission in a lawsuit against Goldman on Friday.

But the legislation would have only an indirect effect, at best, on such activities.

The proposed overhaul would alter the way investors buy and sell derivatives — complex products whose values are based on the values of other investments. At the heart of the Goldman charges were deals involving many derivatives.

The largely Democratic-written bill coming before the Senate this week would merely make the buying and selling of those derivatives more open. It would not prevent the kind of bundling that many believe contributed to the national mortgage bust and subsequent financial crisis and recession.

Nonetheless, Democrats were betting that the case would change the political dynamic in the Senate. Several Republicans did not dispute that the allegations against a Wall Street giant could affect the terms of the debate.

“Our bill would have prevented that kind of event from happening, in my view, and that’s what the public needs to know,” said Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd. “not enacting our legislation, by filibustering it, stopping it, we leave the American public vulnerable once again to the kind of shenanigans that have occurred in our large financial institutions across this country.”

Dodd, D-Conn., left open the possibility of removing from the bill a $50 billion fund that would be used to liquidate “too big to fail” firms. The fund, which would be financed by big banks, has become a target of Republicans who say it would merely encourage banks and their creditors to take unnecessary risks.

The Obama administration has said it does not support the fund and would not object to having it removed. Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner restated that sentiment to her in a meeting Monday.

But Democrats want evidence that removing that element from the bill would result in Republican votes. Several Republicans said they wanted other issues addressed before agreeing to let formal debate begin.

The Securities and Exchange Commission filed civil charges Friday against Goldman Sachs, contending the bank misled investors about the risks surrounding the securities.

“The markets would have known what was going on first of all, so the market could have reacted to these things,” Dodd said.

Whether or not the legislation would address the specific issue that the SEC has raised, it was widely noted that Wall Street was in the midst of another scandal just as the bill was about to hit the Senate.

“Anytime an event occurs out there that points to other problems, that changes the dynamic,” said Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., who has tried to seek a compromise with Dodd.

Corker and Collins both said the bill contains many points supported by Republicans, and the changes they seek would not be difficult to accomplish. Corker has said the changes could be done in “five minutes”; Collins said it could take a couple of weeks to reach agreement.

For now, both said they would vote to block the bill from reaching the Senate floor for debate — a vote that most likely would occur next week.


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