Bank regulation bill not done deal
By JIM KUHNHENN
WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans yesterday delayed final action on a sweeping financial regulation bill, raising a last-minute obstacle to the legislation as it approached the home stretch.
Democrats appeared within reach of the 60-vote threshold needed to move the bill toward passage, however, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he would seek a new vote today.
The vote and yesterday's maneuvering over a handful of remaining amendments represented the final lumps and bruises of a bill that appeared headed for approval.
The legislation, which seeks an overhaul of financial regulations unseen since the 1930s, would set up a mechanism to watch out for risks in the financial system, make it easier to liquidate large failing firms and write new rules for complex securities blamed for helping precipitate the 2008 economic crisis. It also would create a new consumer protection agency, a key point for President Obama.
As the end game on the bill nears, Republicans this week have escalated their attacks on the legislation, arguing the bill had grown worse during its time on the Senate floor and does not address root causes of the 2008 financial meltdown.
The Democratic majority, said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, "uses this crisis as yet another opportunity to expand the cost and size and reach of government."
The vote to end debate was 57-42, three votes shy of the 60 needed to pass. Three Democrats joined 39 Republicans in voting against the measure. Among them was Reid, the Democratic leader, who switched his vote from yes for procedural reasons.
Hawai'i Sens. Daniel Akaka and Daniel K. Inouye, both Democrats, voted to move the bill.
With Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa., absent, Democrats needed one more vote to demonstrate to Republicans that they would eventually prevail and set the stage to pass the biggest rewrite of financial regulations since the Great Depression.
Still, several contentious amendments were still unresolved.
Democratic Sens. Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Carl Levin of Michigan were awaiting a vote on their proposal to ban commercial banks from trading in speculative investments with their own accounts. The measure, also opposed by financial institutions, would toughen an existing provision in the bill.
Senators also were expecting a vote on a measure by Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., that would let auto dealers avoid any regulations passed by a proposed consumer protection agency. The White House has lobbied heavily against the measure.
Late yesterday, the Senate voted 60-35 against a measure that would have allowed states to impose their interest rate caps on financial institutions that issue credit cards. Currently, banks and credit card companies are only required to charge the interest rate permitted in the state where they have their headquarters.
Akaka and Inouye were divided, with Akaka voting for the measure and Inouye against.