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Wall Street Regulations Stagger Ahead

WASHINGTON -- The Senate is moving fitfully through a massive bill to put restraints on the financial sector, bickering over procedural delays amid periodic bursts of action.

Over two days, Republicans and Democrats have voted together to adopt changes on how to liquidate large banks, split along partisan lines to kill a Republican consumer protection proposal, then joined again to defeat a liberal plan to limit the size of giant banks.

The parties are sure to spar again. And with senators ready to offer 100 or more amendments, time will become the point of conflict.

Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says he wants to wrap the bill up by the end of next week. Republican leader Mitch McConnell wants to take his time. The Senate has scheduled no votes until Tuesday.

But the movement so far suggests the bill is clearing a path for itself toward passage.

Still, Reid says he's not in a mood for more patience. This is an election year and the legislative calendar is shrinking fast. Reid anticipates the Senate will soon become preoccupied with a new Supreme Court nominee and the Pentagon wants Congress to approve war spending.

What's more, winning passage of the financial regulation bill in the Senate still means negotiating differences with the House of Representatives, which has already passed its version of the bill.

The Senate's two major votes on Thursday eliminated two contentious regulatory measures -- one to dilute consumer provisions and the other to break up large banks.

In both votes, the Obama administration prevailed. It had forcefully pressed to kill the Republican consumer proposal and had more gently argued against the bank size limits, arguing that size alone was not at the root of the 2008 financial crisis.

A separate proposal to audit the Federal Reserve was attracting broad support from conservatives and liberals alike, following last-minute adjustments and negotiations with the Treasury. The Senate was expected to vote on that measure next week.

Momentum for the audit grew after the Obama administration withdrew its earlier opposition to the proposal on Thursday, saying it was satisfied that the audit would not interfere with the Fed's authority to set monetary policy.