Now that the partisan wrestling match is over, the Senate can … debate?
As Businessweek reported recently, more than 300 bills are stalled in the Senate, either short of a 60 percent cloture vote or stuck with a “hold,” an informal rule that allows senators to freeze bills before a floor debate. For three days Republicans have used the former tactic to block a contentious financial reform bill. However, after repeated disclosures of shifty Wall Street derivatives deals, particularly from Goldman Sachs, Republicans have lain politically exposed and in danger of appearing the enablers of future financial crises.
Senator Richard Shelby, the ranking Republican on the Senate Banking Committee, has stood at the center of the squabble, trying to push a bipartisan agreement in the committee before allowing the bill to proceed to the Senate floor.
However, by Tuesday it became apparent that no such compromise was in the offing. As Shelby made nebulous and seemingly passive statements publicly, his staff and that of Banking Committee chairman Sen. Chris Dodd broke off negotiations of a compromise.
After three days of failed cloture votes, Republicans relented, allowing the bill to proceed to a debate on the Senate floor.
Republicans didn’t lose everything, though. On at least one issue, they seem to have prevailed — blocking a Wall Street-funded reserve for salvaging big banks. Republicans said the fund would promise bailouts to banks and forgive failures like those that caused the current crisis. Democrats likened the plan to the FDIC and emphasized that Wall Street would foot the bill, not taxpayers. Just before the last cloture vote, Democrats agreed to weaken the language or kill the provision, altogether.
Democrats stood firm on another contentious provision — the creation of a consumer financial protection agency which would police predatory lending practices. Republicans have argued that the provision would create more bureaucracy and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has lobbied heavily against it.
While the cloture vote moves the locus of control away from the banking committee, the two ranking members of that committee will act as de facto point men for the debate on the Senate floor. Expect to see more of Sen. Shelby as the financial reform bill moves toward its likely approval.