"Will 41 Republicans Block the Wishes of 65% of Americans?" asks the Democratic National Committee. As of this writing, the answer is -- yes. For the time being, anyway. Republicans aren't stupid. So what's going on here?
1. Government is not popular. People tend to blame George W. Bush for the financial collapse, but they also intuit that the government enabled Wall Street to build its house of cards and ignored the warning signs as the wind blew strongly. Having spent months working to delegitimize the notion of government oversight, Republicans feel they have some wiggle room. For example: by doing as much as possible to weaken the bank liquidation section of the Senate bill, they'll make reconciliation with the House's bank liquidation proposals more difficult. (Still, it seems that Democrats and some Republicans are nearing a compromise that wouldn't allow the "liquidation fund" to borrow from the Treasury if it needed more money.)
2. Democrats aren't popular. This is their bill, although Obama has tried to make it his own. A Democratic bill may be popular on its merits, but the more time the GOP has to tie particular parts of it (e.g., a "bank bailout") to the Democrats, the less popular the bill will become. Already, the White House wants the bill framed as a consumer finance protection bill, not an "end too big to fail" bill, which they find more confusing and controversial.
3. Voting to delay debate on a popular bill is not the same thing as opposing it. In the end, even Richard Shelby expects a good number of Republican senators to come aboard. By twenty points, Americans trust Obama to fix this situation more than they do Republicans. That will matter in the end. And this IS a big bill that WILL change a lot of things.
4. If Republicans have substantive objections to parts of the bill based on political philosophy and their understanding of the economy, the amendment process is where they can try to make the changes. If they have political objections to the prospect of Democrats passing a popular bill, the amendments process is where they can make the most noise -- and get the most coverage for it. The more delay, the more deal-making; the more deal-making, the more procedural ugliness.
5. Democrats aren't popular. This isn't a double entry: the party's stewardship on the economy is indelibly linked to everything they do, and even Democratic strategists don't expect their numbers to rise because they passed this bill -- a bill that one could reasonably wonder why it wasn't passed a year ago.