Republicans Stall Crucial Vote On Financial Rules

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Senate Republicans have successfully blocked Democrats from bringing up a sweeping overhaul of the rules governing Wall Street. But Majority Leader Harry Reid joined them in voting no, giving himself the right under Senate rules to call for another vote to end the GOP filibuster. He could do that as soon as Tuesday afternoon.


This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning. As early as today, Democrats try again to push a financial regulation bill through the Senate. They failed to get the votes to start formal debate yesterday. They faced resistance from Republicans, who are insisting on more negotiations first. This confrontation is becoming a test of whether the Senate can address some of the causes of the financial crisis. It's also become the latest battle between the parties during this election year.

NPR's Audie Cornish reports.

AUDIE CORNISH: Despite persistent talk of bipartisanship negotiations, both parties appear only to be digging in their heels. Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is trying to cast financial regulation as yet another misfire in the Obama administration agenda.

Senator MITCH MCCONNELL (Republican, Kentucky; Senate Minority Leader): Pick the issue, whether it's the Stimulus, the debt, health care, bailouts, you name it: The concerns Republicans raised are being validated. As I said, all of us want to deliver a reform bill that will tighten the screws on Wall Street. But we're not going to be rushed into another massive bill based on the assurances of our friends on the other side.

CORNISH: Meanwhile, Democrats are only too happy to hold another vote in the shadow of today's Senate hearings featuring Goldman Sachs executives. The firm has been sued for fraud by the Securities and Exchange Commission, and Michigan Senator Carl Levin has called them to testify on the role of investment banks in the financial crisis.

Banking Committee Chair Chris Dodd says Republicans should be feeling the pressure.

Senator CHRIS DODD (Democrat, Connecticut; Chairman, Senate Banking Committee): You're going have hearings at Senator Levin's committee, which is going to highlight once again what happened to people, and you're still saying no. I won't even consider debating measures that would at least minimize that kind of thing reoccurring again and putting as many people at risk? I don't understand the logic.

CORNISH: And don't get Dodd started on his own caucus.

Sen. DODD: Groundhog Day here.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CORNISH: Dodd's referring to Nebraska Democrat Ben Nelson, who joined the Republicans in blocking the bill. He had this to say.

Senator BEN NELSON (Democrat, Nebraska): I don't think there is sufficient information about what the ultimate bill is going to be for me to be comfortable to vote for a motion to cloture, or a to motion to proceed.

CORNISH: During the health care debate, Nelson got famous for working out a deal for his state. This time Nelson's defending small businesses he says could suffer under the proposed consumer protection bureau. Nelson also wants to strip out a provision that's been criticized by one of Nebraska's not-so-small businessman: billionaire Warren Buffet.

Another player from health care who's resurfacing in the financial bill debate is Olympia Snowe. The Republican from Maine says her party concerns must be met now, and that it's too late once the bill hits the floor.

Senator OLYMPIA SNOWE (Republican, Maine): Yeah, similarly to health care reform, you know, I would be sure, for example, that we would have an open amendment process, and that didn't materialized. That did not occur.

CORNISH: Never mind that Democrats are also getting a hard push from the left to put even tougher provisions in the bill.

Senator BERNIE SANDERS (Independent, Vermont): What I want to underline here is I hope we just don't end up with a financial reform bill. I hope we end up with a meaningful financial reform bill.

CORNISH: That's independent Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. He's pushing for provisions that would break up the largest banks. But amendments like that can't happen unless Democrats get enough Republican support to get the bill on the floor. In the meantime, they will keep forcing Republicans to vote against the bill as it stands, accusing them of doing Wall Street's bidding.

Audie Cornish, NPR News, the Capitol.

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