Wall St. War to Senate Floor

| Mon Mar. 22, 2010 5:01 PM EDT

In a brisk, no-frills 20-minute session, Sen. Chris Dodd's version of a sprawling financial reform bill was passed by the Senate banking committee—13 Democrats to 10 Republicans—and moves on to what will surely be a legislative war on the Senate floor. Today's mark-up session by the banking committee was meant to be a debate among committee members over nearly 400 amendments to Dodd's original bill (PDF), released last week. But lawmakers instead approved a manager's amendment to the bill, which makes a number of technical and rhetorical tweaks to Dodd's bill, then voted on the bill entirely, knowing that a Democratic majority would pass it and set up the real debate in the Senate.

There was an anticlimactic feeling surrounding the event, and a few senators, including several Republicans, didn't even show up to the mark-up and voted by proxy. Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), a top GOP negotiator on the Dodd bill before talks broke down, had hinted earlier today that a low-key vote would happen, and predicted that the Senate would take up the bill after Easter. "It's probably true that we have a better opportunity with a different cast of characters, the full Senate, to do something that is sound policy-wise," Corker told CNBC today.

The quick vote today is undoubtedly an indication that senators handling financial reform didn't want a health care-like battle in committee. For months, health care talks were bogged down in the Senate finance committee, between Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), but by skipping over contentious amendments today, Dodd and his colleagues bypassed a several weeks' worth of infighting. The mark-up today marked a shift in GOP tactics more than anything. At several points in the meeting, Dodd, the banking committee's chair, asked GOP counterparts whether they wanted to make any statements or comment on the bill, but those in attendance all declined but for brief remarks by Shelby, the ranking member. Bypassing the committee negotiations was clearly a decision made by Senate Republicans to fight it out on the Senate floor, where the Dems enjoy a slim majority but Republicans have gained momentum. The Senate floor is also a more visible, high profile venue—center court, if you will—to lay out their hundreds of amendments.

Those amendments range from watering down an independent consumer agency to declawing a council of regulators that would guard against systemic, AIG-like risk. So while today's brief affair might've brought the negotiations to prime time sooner, all those amendments will still see the light of day in a few weeks. The battle over Wall Street is still coming.