Senate Republicans are running out the clock on Wall Street reform,
reaping dividends from the long-term strategy of delaying Senate action
on issues big and small since President Obama took office. From the
routine nominations that have been filibustered to the months of useless
bipartisan negotiations over health care, the GOP has been explicit:
its goal has been to eat up floor time and stall any agenda it opposed.
Now that strategy is paying off. With a long line of progressive
amendments that appear to have majority support waiting for a vote,
Republicans are objecting to holding a vote. Under intense time
pressure, Democratic leadership is working to wrap up the debate and a
cloture vote could come as early as Wednesday afternoon.
After all, the GOP is arguing, there's a war to fund. And an economy
to deal with. And unemployment benefits expires. And tax credits for
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) has an amendment to allow states to
cap credit-card interest rates stalled. He called out the GOP tactic on
the Senate floor.
"Now that we're squeezed for time, they're refusing to give time
agreements to amendments like mine that would actually make a
difference. They don't want to vote in favor of out of state
corporations and against their home states' ability to help their home
states' fellow citizens. But they do want the out-of-state corporations
to win. They don't want to vote in their favor, but they do want them to
win," he said on the Senate floor Monday.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) urged outright
opposition to the bill on Wednesday. "Now, everyone recognizes the need
to rein in Wall Street to prevent another crisis. But the bill the
Majority wants to end debate on today does not do that. Instead, it uses
this crisis as yet another opportunity to expand the cost and size and
reach of government. It punishes Main Street for the sins of Wall
Street. Worst of all, it ignores the root of the crisis by doing nothing
to reform the GSEs," he said, referring to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
A Democratic aide said that Whitehouse may indeed get a vote on his
amendment Wednesday, but many others could be left behind. Other
amendments in line would address abuses by payday lenders, cap ATM fees
at 50 cents, reinstate a form of Glass-Steagall, ban the trading of
naked credit default swaps, and prevent the deregulation of the
insurance industry. In order to be considered after cloture, the
amendments would need to be ruled germane.
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One last way to get aboard the departing train is to attach an
amendment to another that has already been ruled germane. They only
candidate for this tactic is an amendment from Republican Sen. Sam
Brownback (R-Kan.) that would exempt auto dealers from a new Consumer
Financial Protection Bureau. The amendment passed the House and is
strongly opposed by a coalition of military and consumer advocates.
Seeing no other option, Sens. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Jeff Merkley
have decided to attach their amendment to Brownback's. The measure would
require banks to cease trading taxpayer-backed money for their own
gain. The current bill leaves the decision of whether to ban such
activity up to regulators. The gambit would put progressives in the
uncomfortable position of being forced to back the auto-dealer loophole
in order to pass the Levin-Merkley amendment. (But then again, they
could then tell auto dealers back home, who tend to have significant
political sway in local communities, that they stood up for them.
However, an aide to Merkley said that the pair won't encourage
colleagues to vote one way or the other on Brownback's amendment.)
In the midst of the dispute, Larry Summers, President Obama's top
economic adviser, came to the Capitol Tuesday to urge Senate Democrats
to finish debate on Wall Street reform. "If you vote for cloture right
now and don't add any more amendments, we will have solved the issues
that led to crisis. Had this been law, as is, in 2007, we would not have
had the crisis," Summers said, according to a person briefed on his
discussion and confirmed by a senior Democratic aide. Matt Vogel, a
Summers aide, said that the quote wasn't rendered accurately but did
capture the spirit of his remarks. "He did say that if the bill had been
law there would have been a totally different situation," said Vogel.
He definitely did talk about what a difference it would have made in
responding to the crisis if the bill had been law then."
Vogel said that Summers did not intend to weigh in on the debate
within the Democratic caucus over whether to cut off the amendment
process and move to a cloture vote Wednesday, which would set up a final
vote on the bill for Friday. Rather, he was putting forward the
standard and oft-repeated administration position that the bill is a
strong one and deserves passage.
On Wednesday, the White House pushed to wrap it up, with @barackobama
tweeting: "It's time for Wall St. reform that gives greater security to
folks on Main Street. Call your Republican Senators today:
Following the lunch, Levin and Merkley attempted to bring up their
amendment on the floor but Republicans, who had also been meeting at the
same time as Democrats, objected, blocking it from consideration. They
also blocked the naked swaps amendment and the payday lending measure.
Democratic leadership, in response, decided not to bring up any further
controversial amendments throughout Tuesday.
The quandary Democrats face is also the result of their earlier
success in forcing Republicans to allow debate. By embarrassing the GOP
for several days by calling the bill up for debate, Democrats succeeding
in gaining their consent, but not in the typical way that also spells
out an agreement on what amendments can be offered. With no agreement,
individual senators can block consideration of an amendment by
themselves. The only route around them is a cloture vote, which takes
several days worth of precious time.
Whitehouse said that the GOP tactic makes perfect sense if they
oppose the amendments still in line. "If that's your position the
perfect thing is to delay and delay and delay until it gets to be here
at the end, crunch time and take the amendments that worry you, the
amendments that will really get after big banks, the amendments that
will really be fair to consumers and refuse to give time agreements and
vote agreements on those and basically run out the clock," he said.