Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Daily Strike-5/19/10-Financial Reform Hiccup

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. We had quite an election night last night, with overall positive results for our side. More on that in a moment.

FINANCIAL REFORM: The Senate today took a vote on whether to limit debate on the Wall Street Reform bill. The vote was 57-42, three votes short of the 60 it needed to advance. Majority Leader Reid (D-NV) voted no for procedural reasons (so he could bring up the motion again tomorrow), and Arlen Specter missed the vote after last night's election, so Democrats remain two votes shy. Two Republicans, Senators Snowe (ME) and Collins (ME), voted to end debate. The problem was that two generally liberal, but often renegade Democrats, voted no. Russ Feingold (WI) said that the bill did not pass the test of whether it would prevent another financial collapse. I agree with him on this point, but to me that's not reason enough to filibuster the bill. It would still be the most significant overhaul of our financial sector since the New Deal Era. Maria Cantwell (WA) voted no for a couple of reasons. For one, Democrats have so far refused to allow a vote on her amendment to reinstate Glass-Stegall restrictions (which I support). She also apparently doesn't think the derivatives language goes far enough.

Again, I'm sympathetic to those who think the bill doesn't go far enough. In fact, Senators Dodd (CT) and Reid (NV) have frequently rebuffed Democratic efforts to strengthen the bill. On the other hand, delaying passage of the bill won't likely make it any better, in my view. (The Big Picture disagrees, and cites this article as evidence). I also have sympathy for party leaders who are responsible for getting legislation through in a timely manner.

Majority Leader Reid has scheduled a re-vote for tomorrow afternoon. My guess is that he will offer Maria Cantwell some sort of deal to get her on board (maybe a vote on her amendment). If he doesn't succeed, he'll have to pry away another Republican. He claims that Senator Brown (MA) told him that he would support cloture, but withdrew his support at the last minute.

The Senate did take a couple of other votes on amendments today. A good amendment offered by Senator Whitehouse (D-RI), which would have closed a loophole that allows credit card companies to avoid state interest rate caps, failed by a vote of 35-60. Chalk up another win for the big banks. I don't understand how any self-respecting Democrat can vote against that amendment.

Should the Senate vote to cut off debate tomorrow, the Senate would proceed to vote on amendments on Friday and possibly over the weekend. A vote on final passage would most likely happen early next week. The Senate still needs to pass a war funding bill by the Memorial Day recess, so they need to keep the ball rolling.

THE HOUSE: House Democrats failed to hold their own members in line when Republicans offered a poison pill porn-related amendment to a science investment bill last week. Democrats decided to try again with the bill, this time under suspension of the rules so that Republicans couldn't offer amendments. Of course, under suspension of the rules, a 2/3rds majority is necessary. The vote was 261-148, about 29 votes short. Only 15 Republicans supported a deficit-neutral increase in investments in science and math education. Democrats will have to find another way to pass this bill in the next couple of weeks. Tomorrow, they'll take up a bill full of tax break and unemployment insurance extensions. We'll have full details in tomorrow night's entry.

ELECTION DAY: It turned out to be quite an election night last night, and an overall very solid night for Democrats. In Kentucky, Ron Paul's son Rand won the Republican nomination in the election to replace retiring Republican Jim Bunning. Rand Paul is sort of a nut, so his nomination gives the Democrats a decent chance to capture a Republican-held seat. For example, today Paul insisted that he would have voted against the 1964 Civil Rights Act. His die hard libertarian views, including some that may not mesh well with Kentucky's social conservatives (pot legalization!), could make this race winnable for the Democratic nominee, Attorney General Jack Conway.

In Pennsylvania, Joe Sestak won a resounding victory of incumbent party-switching Democrat Arlen Specter. Congressman Sestak did a very effective job reminding voters about Specter's Republican past, and he was buoyed by strong support among grassroots progressives. I think Sestak will be a more competitive candidate this fall against Republican nominee Pat Toomey.

Perhaps the best and most surprising result of the night came in the special election in Western Pennsylvania to replace the late Jack Murtha. Democrat Mark Critz, who polls showed was in a close race with Republican Tim Burns, cruised to a 12 point victory, and will take his seat in Congress tomorrow. As we noted yesterday, Democrats had no business winning this seat in the current political environment. This was the only district that voted for John Kerry in 2004 and John McCain in 2008. It is largely made up of older, white voters, and President Obama is polling very poorly there. If Republicans can't win an open seat like this, they will have a hard time winning the majority in November. Yes, Critz did run against many important Democratic policies, but his victory helps dispel the media narrative that the GOP is destined for a massive landslide in the midterm elections.

I'm also very pleased that Lt. Governor Bill Halter has pushed incumbent Senator Blanche Lincoln into a run-off in Arkansas' Senate primary. No doubt some of Halter's support came from right-wingers who wanted to express disapproval of Lincoln, but a large segment of his support comes from organized labor, who was rightly outraged that Lincoln abandoned Democratic positions on the Employee Free Choice Act and the public option. Also, Halter's success will force Lincoln to keep tailoring her policy positions to the Democratic primary electorate, at least for the next few weeks. As a direct result of last night's election, Lincoln's strong language regulating financial derivatives survived in the Wall Street reform bill.

That's it for tonight. Leave us your thoughts on Wall Street reform or last night's elections!

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