UPDATE 1:00 P.M
Dodd just tried to move on amendments by Sens. Snowe, R-Maine, Landrieau, D-La., Vitter, R-La., and Whitehouse, D-R.I., and then proceed to the cloture vote. Sen. Carl Levin objected, presumably because his amendment to implement the Volcker Rule was not included.
This was an explicit attempt to weaken the bill and block progressive improvements. The only amendment of those Dodd wanted to offer that would strengthen the bill would be the Whitehouse amendment, but Dodd wanted to impose a 60-vote standard for that amendment alone. Notably, Dodd did not request that any of the important amendments to strengthen derivatives regulation be included, nor did he go to bat for Merkley-Levin.
The Senate Wall Street reform bill could very well come undone today. Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Chris Dodd, D-Conn., are pushing to end debate on the bill, and preclude any votes on key progressive and moderate amendments. Most notably, an amendment to implement President Barack Obama’s signature reform– the Volcker Rule– could go down without a vote.
Republicans unleashed a swarm of procedural maneuvers yesterday to keep the key amendment, penned by Sens. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., and Carl Levin, D-Mich., from coming up for a vote– in large part because Merkley and Levin contend they have the 60 votes needed to override a filibuster. The amendment would take a modest but critical step toward reining in Wall Street by banning banks from gambling with taxpayer-guaranteed deposits.
But several other key amendments are also in jeopardy. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., would strengthen reform of derivatives, the wild west market that killed AIG, while Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., would go even further and ban any derivatives that constitute raw gambling. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., would allow states to cap interest rates on credit cards and mortgages, and Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, wants to cap ATM fees at 50 cents.
All of these amendments would be productive, but if the Senate votes to end debate on the bill at 2:00 p.m. today, they will not even come up for a vote. Not all of these are even definitively “progressive” amendments– Wall Street just doesn’t like them. Take Cantwell’s amendment. It basically requires that derivatives be traded on open and trasparent exchanges, the same way stocks are traded. Right now that market operates totally in the dark, making it a hotbed for abuse and excess, exemplified by AIG. But this exchange-trading reform is already in the existing legislation– it’s just shot through with Wall Street-friendly loopholes. Cantwell’s bill would simply remove those loopholes.
These are real opportunities to strengthen the legislation. The idea that Merkley-Levin, the best version of Obama’s own core reform, could go down without even a vote says a lot about where the Senate’s priorities are right now.
It also says a lot about Obama’s priorities. The White House has been silent– absolutely silent– since Republicans blocked the vote on the Volcker Rule yesterday. Obama must seize the moment here and stand up for real reform. If he doesn’t, and instead allows Republicans to defeat his signature proposal without even putting up a fight, it will be a political black eye for the president, as well as a setback for our economy.
It’s not at all clear what will happen when the cloture vote comes. Several slighted progressives have indicated they will not vote to end debate until their amendments are at least put up to a vote. That will make a 60-vote threshold very hard to meet. But it’s not at all clear how a failure to meet 60 votes would affect the overall bill.
The vote is currently scheduled for 2 p.m. Stay tuned.
UPDATE: Salon’s Andrew Leonard offers similar thoughts.