WASHINGTON – Undaunted by a Senate setback, Democrats appeared increasingly confident Monday they will be able to take advantage of Americans’ anger at Wall Street and push through the most sweeping new controls on financial institutions since the Great Depression.
The Senate, in a 57-41 vote, failed to get the 60 supporters needed to proceed on the regulatory overhaul. One Democrat, Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, joined with the Republicans.
But the evening vote was just part of a legislative ballet keeping bipartisan talks alive. At the end, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid switched his vote to “no,” too, but that was just a maneuver that will enable him to call for a new tally as early as today.
Republicans themselves have taken up the Democrats’ Wall Street-bashing rhetoric and have voiced hope that a bill will ultimately pass. In that light, the path to final approval seems clearer than it ever did during the contentious debate over health care.
Following the vote, President Barack Obama said he was “deeply disappointed” and urged senators to put the interests of the country ahead of party.
“Some of these senators may believe that this obstruction is a good political strategy, and others may see delay as an opportunity to take this debate behind closed doors, where financial industry lobbyists can water down reform or kill it altogether,” Obama said in a statement. “But the American people can’t afford that.”
In a statement, Nelson, a conservative Nebraska Democrat, said his vote reflected concerns about the bill raised by Nebraska businessmen. Nelson and Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., the chairman of the Banking Committee, huddled before the vote discussing the elimination of a provision supported by Nebraska billionaire investor Warren Buffett to exempt existing derivatives from new regulations.
Both the House and Senate bills, aimed at heading off any recurrence of the near collapse of the financial system in 2008, would create a mechanism for liquidating large firms that get into trouble, set up a council to detect systemwide financial threats and establish a consumer protection agency to police lending. The legislation also would require investment derivatives, blamed for helping precipitate the near-meltdown, to be traded in open exchanges.
Senate Republicans have been solidly opposed to the legislation so far, but Democrats are determined to force them to block the bill time and again until their unity cracks.
“I don’t think it’s a tenable political position for the Republicans to be in,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said.
And Reid mocked the Republicans’ cohesion.
“As far as I can tell, the only thing Republicans stand for is standing together,” he said.