Why Can't Democrats Get the Votes for Financial Reform?

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It's somewhat understandable that Democrats are having trouble convincing Republicans to vote for their aggressive financial reform bill. They are, after all, political opponents. But why can't Democrats get all of their own Senators on board? Yesterday's cloture vote included two Republicans, plenty to get the 60 needed if all 59 Democrats had voted in favor. But two -- Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) -- voted against the motion. Each wanted at least a few more amendments heard. Why is that too much to ask?

A few of the prominent progressive amendments that haven't been voted on include Cantwell's proposal and one by Senators Merkley (D-OR) and Levin (D-MI). Cantwell's amendment would reinstate the investment and commercial banking separation that Glass-Steagall required, and the Merkley-Levin amendment would put in place the Volcker Rule's proprietary trading ban for banks.

There are two possibilities to consider here. One is that, despite Democratic leadership aggressively working to bring additional progressive amendments to vote, their attempts are blocked by Republicans. If that happens, would Cantwell and Feingold continue to vote against the bill? Maybe, but do they really believe that no financial reform would be better than a more moderate bill? That might be a hard sell politically.

The other possibility, however, is that the Democratic leadership fears that some of the amendments will actually will pass. The Cantwell amendment, in particular, is co-sponsored by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). If it really has bipartisan support, then it could succeed. That prospect might frighten moderate Democrats, who think breaking up the banks would take things too far.

Frankly, that latter possibility is the only thing that makes sense. It shouldn't be difficult or overly time consuming for the Democratic leadership to push for a few more amendments to be heard. In fact, you would think that they would be falling all over themselves to make that happen if it means getting the last two votes they need. But with another vote scheduled for 2:30pm this afternoon, no amendment votes have been held yet this morning before lunchtime.

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Daniel Indiviglio was an associate editor at The Atlantic from 2009 through 2011. He is now the Washington, D.C.-based columnist for Reuters Breakingviews. He is also a 2011 Robert Novak Journalism Fellow through the Phillips Foundation. More

Indiviglio has also written for Forbes. Prior to becoming a journalist, he spent several years working as an investment banker and a consultant.
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