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The Senate has been done with the financial reform bill since last Thursday, but supporters of exempting car dealers that facilitate loans from oversight by the proposed Consumer Financial Protection Bureau got one more chance today to promote their position, and they won big.

Sen. Sam Brownback [R, KS] is the main supporter of the exemption. He argues that, the way it's done now, dealer financing is fair and sound, and that regulating it would decrease financing access for consumers. Consumer protection groups, on the other hand, argue that auto loans -- the most common type of large loan held by Americans -- are often scammy and abusive.

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What's Next for Reforming Wall Street

May 21, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

As you've no doubt heard by now, the Senate officially passed their financial reform bill, the Restoring American Financial Stability Act, last night by a vote of 59-39. Four Republicans joined most Democrats in supporting it, and two Democrats broke rank from the left to vote against it.

They turned it into a substitute amendment to the House's bill, so S.3217 is now H.R.4173 and we have two different versions of the same bill -- one as passed by the House and one as passed by the Senate. The next step in getting the bill into law is for House and Senate leaders to convene a "conference committee" to iron out the differences between the two versions.

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Wall Street's Majority Leader

May 20, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

If you think the Senate has a pro-Wall Street tilt right now, just wait until the current Majority Leader is defeated and the next in line takes over. The Washington Post is running a piece today on the many reasons why the Senate's current number-three Democrat, Sen. Chuck Schumer [D, NY], is the most likely candidate for the position after/if current Majority Leader Harry Reid [D, NV] is defeated in the November mid-terms, not the progressive number-two, Sen. Dick Durbin [D, IL].

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Dems Win Big Financial Reform Vote

May 20, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

Having won over Sen. Scott Brown [R, MA] and having Sen. Arlen Specter [D, PA] back in the chamber to place his vote, the Democrats today found 60 votes and passed cloture on their financial reform bill. That means that a final vote on the bill requiring a simple majority of 51 votes must take place within the next 30 hours.

The bill, called the Restoring American Financial Stability Act of 2010, attempts to fix regulations of derivatives, create new consumer protections for financial products, and set up an orderly liquidation process for winding down failing systemically risky financial institutions to avoid future bailouts, and much more. A summary of the bill as filed (without the dozens of floor amendments that were added) can be found here (pdf).

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Why Cantwell Voted No

May 19, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

As I reported yesterday, Senate Democrats lost a big procedural vote to wrap up the financial reform debate and move to passage of the bill because two of their own -- Sen. Maria Cantwell [D, WA] and Sen. Russ Feingold [D, WI] -- wanted to hold out and try to strengthen it. I said yesterday that the two were probably hoping to get a vote on an amendment they are co-sponsoring to reinstate the old Glass-Steagall Act firewall between commercial and investment banks. I was wrong. Cantwell's office today released a statement explaining why she voted no, and it's all about improving the bill's derivatives section:

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Dems Fail to Get Cloture on Financial Reform

May 19, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

After calling off the 2 p.m. vote as originally scheduled and huddling in an emergency meeting, the Democrats came back this afternoon and tried to pass the cloture motion to wrap up the financial reform debate, but failed. The Senate Dem leadership held the vote open for over an hour to twist arms and try to flip some votes in their favor, but in the end the tally was 57-42. Sixty votes were needed to approve the motion.

Sen. Susan Collins [R, ME] and Sen. Olympia Snowe [R, ME] joined with most Democrats in favor of the motion. But Sen. Maria Cantwell [D, WA] and Sen. Russ Feingold [D, WI] voted "no" because they weren't allowed a vote on their amendment to reinstate a Depression-era rule (Glass-Steagall) requiring commercial banks and investment banks to remain separate. Looks like the Dem leadership will have to let progressives vote on their amendments if they want to wrap up the financial reform debate and move towards a final vote on passage.

So the debate goes on. Amendments will continue to be voted on. Expect another cloture vote tomorrow and each day until it passes. It's probably going to take at least a vote on the Cantwell/Feingold/McCain Glass-Steagall amendmentfor the Dems to get there.

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Remember when everyone was expecting Sen. Blanche Lincoln [D, AR] to use her position as Chair of the Ag Committee to insert a weak, loophole-ridden derivatives section in the financial reform bill, but then she surprised everyone by proposing something that was tougher than anything Congress had even considered considering? Well there's  a rumor floating around that Lincoln only proposed such a tough derivatives section in order to boost her liberal/anti-Wall Street cred and help her in a tough primary, and that after the primary is over she'll agree to gut her proposal and give Wall Street many of the concessions they want.

Well, her primary is today, and, like clockwork, reports are out that Lincoln is in private talks to change her derivatives language.

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As expected, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid [D, NV]has filed for cloture on the financial reform bill, setting up the possibility of a Wednesday vote on ending the debate and forcing an up-or-down vote on passage.

For financial reform advocates, this is mixed news. On the one hand, the bill that Reid is filing cloture on is stronger than what anyone had really expected the Senate to produce. Blanche Lincoln's tough derivatives language is still mostly in tact, strengthening amendments regarding debit fees, ratings agencies and auditing the Fed have been adopted, and every attempt to weaken the bill so far has been beaten back. On the other hand, some of the most important strengthening amendments haven't been voted on yet and may not get voted on if cloture is approved on Wednesday.

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In the House, derivatives reform was gutted by a loophole that allows any bank to declare themselves a "swap execution facility" and simply make a trade over the phone. Now, the derivatives reform section in the Senate financial reform bill, which is generally considered one of the bill's toughest sections, is at risk of being rendered useless by its own loophole. This one would let banks dodge new clearing requirements without any negative consequences, even if they have been told by regulators that they must conduct their trade through a clearinghouse.

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Senate Votes to Rein in Debit Fees

May 14, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

The Amendment votes continue to roll in on the financial reform bill. The most substantial amendments adopted to the bill recently have to do with reforming the credit rating agencies -- one from Sen. Al Franken [D, MN] and one from Sen. George LeMieux [R, FL]. You can read about them here.

There are smaller amendments being continually added to the bill as well, either by unanimous consent or through roll call votes that just aren't getting much media attention. But some of these unnoticed amendments could end up having big impacts. Sen. Dick Durbin's [D, IL] amendment adopted yesterday to rein in the largely unregulated debit card market is a good example.

 

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FinReg Update -- What's Happened, What's Next

May 12, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

The votes have really been rolling in on the financial reform bill in the Senate. So far, there have been 20 roll call votes on the bill -- 4 on ending the initial Republican filibuster of beginning the debate and 16 since on amendments. Of those 16 amendment votes, 9 have been approved and added to the bill. Additionally, six amendments have been adopted without roll calls by voice votes.

Click through to get all the info on the latest amendments adopted and what we can expect to be up for votes next.

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Senate Democrats beat back an amendment to their financial reform bill from Sen. John McCain [R, AZ] on Tuesday that would have required the government to release Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac from their control and force them to sink or swim in the free market like all the other financial companies. The amendment was defeated by a vote of 43-56, with all Republicans voting in favor along wit two Democrats -- Sen. Evan Bayh [D, IN] and Sen. Russell Feingold [D, WI].

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UPDATE: The Sanders one-time Fed audit amendment has passed, 96-0. The Vitter amendment to open up the Fed to audits in perpetuity was rejected, 37-62.

Last week, an amendment from Sen. Bernie Sanders [I, VT] to remove a section of U.S. code that protects the Federal Reserve from meaningful audits looked set to pass over objections from Banking Committee Chairman Sen. Chris Dodd [D, CT] and the White House. Then, all of a sudden, to alleviate concerns that it would put President Obama in a sticky situation (there was speculation that he would veto the whole financial reform bill over the amendment), Sanders agreed to change his amendment so that it keeps the special protections in U.S. code in tact, and instead allows the government to conduct a one-time audit of the Fed and what they have done from Dec. 1, 2007 until now, notwithstanding the special protections.

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The Week Ahead in Congress

May 10, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

The Senate gets right back into the thick of things on financial reform today. The debate has been on pause since last Thursday, after managing to dispose of two amendments that were threatening to jeopardize the White House's support and shake up the delicately compromised balance negotiated byBanking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd [D, CT] in the underlying bill. An amendment to bring a new level of transparency to the Federal Reserve was whittled down to a one-time audit, and an amendment to put new size caps and leverage limits on the big banks was voted down aft being rushed to a surprise vote late in the evening.

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A Failed Vote on Breaking up Banks

May 7, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

The Senate last night voted on a financial reform amendment that, although probably never having a real shot at passing, gives us a unique chance to see in the stark relief the divisions in both parties on truly reining in the "too big to fail" banks.

The amendment, a version of the SAFE Banking Act sponsored by Sens. Sherrod Brown [D, OH] and Ted Kaufman [D, DE], would have placed strict size caps on banks and non-bank financial companies. In practical terms, it would have forced the breaking up of some of the Wall Street corporations. Instead of consolidating like they have been doing for the past 20 years, banks like Bank of America and Chase would have been forced to sell some of their branches off to smaller regional banks over a period of three years.

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