Sen. Christopher Dodd said yesterday that he will remain chairman of the Senate Banking Committee so he can play a key role in the financial crisis - "the central issue of our day" - and called for the federal government to provide assistance to state and local governments that have been hurt by the crisis.
The Connecticut Democrat made the remarks during a 30-minute press conference in which he indicated his strong support for "direct financing into municipalities," specifically through the creation of an infrastructure financing bank.
"I would hope that come Jan. 20, that we'd be looking at a major infrastructure bill," he said, referring to Inauguration Day. He added that Congress probably will have to create the bank on top of any stimulus legislation that is drafted and approved by the end of the year.
"That may be more than you want to bite off in the next few weeks," he said, referring to the infrastructure bank. Dodd has sponsored legislation to create an infrastructure financing bank that would provide $60 billion over 10 years to finance highways and other projects in conjunction with municipal bonds.
Meanwhile, Dodd said he has urged President-elect Barack Obama to quickly identify the individuals he intends to nominate as part of his economic team, noting that the economic crisis is "the center of gravity to which all our other problems are being pulled."
The Banking Committee will be responsible for leading efforts to reform and modernize the financial system's regulatory structure, an issue that Dodd called the committee's "first legislative objective." Dodd was rumored to be considering moving to the chairmanship of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to replace Vice President-elect Joe Biden.
During the conference, Dodd said also that the committee will play a key role in reauthorizing the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: a Legacy for Users, or SAFETEA-LU, the law governing surface transportation that was signed into law in 2005 and expires Sept. 30.
Asked how the committee will approach regulatory reform, Dodd said he will need to first consult with the Obama administration and his congressional colleagues.
"Ideally, you'd like a single proposal to go forward, but that may be unrealistic," he said.
On the issue of timing, he said that he is "a little uneasy" about acting too quickly, risking overreacting.
"I want to make sure that we have a regulatory system that has the transparency, the proper supervisory role that we ought to be playing, but at the same time does not strangle creativity and imagination that has been the hallmark of our success as well," he said.
But he noted that "putting our country back on sound economic footing is our defining challenge," and said that "when the economy doesn't work, nothing works."
"I'm proud of what we've been able to accomplish, but our work is far, far from finished," he added.