Questions Loom over Final Finance Vote

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On his second try, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) corralled together enough votes to all but end the debate on financial reform and set up a final vote tomorrow evening. Joining 57 Democrats to vote “Yes” on today’s cloture motion, the second in two days, were Maine Republicans Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins and Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown. The cloture motion passed 60-40. 

The real story of today’s vote, though, involves the two Democratic “No” votes, Senators Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.). Unlike their fellow “No” votes, Cantwell and Feingold opposed cloture today, as they did yesterday, because they want the bill to be tougher. Both senators say the bill doesn’t go far enough on two hot-button subjects—preventing financial institutions from becoming too-big-to-fail and overhauling the derivatives markets.

In Feingold’s case, he essentially wants to see some form of the Glass-Steagall Act—which erected a firewall between staid commercial banks and more risky investment banks—reinstated via the Senate’s reform bill. Yesterday, after voting “No” the first time, Feingold said:

We need to eliminate the risk posed to our economy by ‘too big to fail’ financial firms and to reinstate the protective firewalls between Main Street banks and Wall Street firms. Unfortunately, these key reforms are not included in the bill. The test for this legislation is a simple one—whether it will prevent another financial crisis. As the bill stands, it fails that test. Ending debate on the bill is finishing before the job is done.

Maria Cantwell said yesterday after her first “No” vote that her main concern about the bill was that it contained no punishment for those who violated the new restrictions on derivatives. Cantwell explained that she wanted tougher language in the bill to crack down on derivatives users that don’t comply with the bill—but that language has not yet been included, which likely explains her vote.

Cantwell and Feingold’s defections are a major headache for Reid. It’ll be a lot easier for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to reel back in one, two, or three of the GOPers who voted for cloture today, switching them from presumed “Yes”s to “No”s on the final vote. What’s far harder is convincing Cantwell or Feingold that they should vote for the bill even though they see major, fundamental problems with how its currently written. With Feingold, he’s essentially saying the biggest aspect of the bill—ending too-big-to-fail—won’t fix anything and needs to be changed. There is, however, no way that’ll be fixed in the next day—after all, it took months of backroom battling to get to where we are today.

Reid’s got his work cut out for him winning over Cantwell and Feingold by tomorrow evening.

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