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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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The Week Ahead

May 17, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

The Senate's financial reform debate may come to an end this week. Majority Leader Harry Reid [D, NV] will reportedly be filing for cloture today, which will set up a vote on ending the debate on Wednesday. If cloture is approved (60 votes are needed), that will be the end of an amendment process that has only made the bill tougher.

There will be more amendment votes before the cloture vote takes place, and we’ll be covering them on this blog. In the meantime, here’s what will be happening this week in the House:

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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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President Obama today signed H.R.5146, "a bill to provide that Members of Congress shall not receive a cost of living adjustment in pay during fiscal year 2011," into law.

Under the 1946 Legislative Reorganization Act every member of Congress is automatically granted an annual "cost of living adjustment" (a.k.a. a pay raise) of about $1,500. Senators and Representtaives are currently paid $174,000 per year. 2011 will be the second year in a row that Congress has voted to deny themselves the raise.

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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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Last week, 14 Democrats introduced a bill called the Big Oil Bailout Prevention Liability Act of 2010 to raise the current $75 million cap on economic damages caused by oil spills to $10 billion in order to ensure that BP is paying for the impact the spill is and will continue to have on the Gulf coast economy, not the business owners and taxpayers.

The bill's sponsors today put forth a unanimous consent request to pass the bill. But one senator, Lisa Murkowski [R, AK], objected. “Taking the liability cap from $75 million dollars to $10 billion dollars… 133 times the current strict liability limit, isn’t where we need to be right now,” Murkowski said on the Senate floor.

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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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American Power and Offshore Drilling

May 12, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

Sen. John Kerry [D, MA] and Sen. Joseph Lieber man [I, CT] today unveiled details of their long-awaited American Power Act, which is a comprehensive bill designed to deal with the issues of climate change and energy independence. It's a draft right now, so we don't have it up on OpenCongress. As soon as we do, we'll be doing some more deep analysis of its provisions. But for now, it wanted to pass along some info on what the bill proposes for the energy topic du jour -- offshore drilling.

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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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Reining in the Debt Settlement Industry

May 11, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

As the financial crisis turned into an economic crisis, people began losing jobs and personal debt exploded, television and radio ads promising to help you settle your debt for a fraction of what you owe have became more and more prevalent. Not surprisingly, the growth of debt-settlement industry is mostly predatory in nature, and in some cases their business models are outright fraudulent.

Sen. Charles Schumer [D, NY] recently introduced a bill to rein in these companies, called the Debt Settlement Consumer Protection Act. It would create new disclosure requirements in customer contracts, prohibits a number of abusive tactics, limits the fees companies can charge customers, and more.

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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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Congress Links

May 10, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

Senators start reacting to the nomination of Elana Kagan to the Supreme Court. Banks and other financial interests ramp up their lobbying against the Senate's financial reform bill. A senator says money from big oil made the BP spill possible. And the federal government gets ready to let kids stay on their parents' insurance plans until they are 26. That and more in today's roundup of links on Congress.

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Reaffirming 'In God We Trust'

May 10, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

Does our national motto need a little boost from Congress? House Republicans seem to think so. Last week, Rep. James Forbes [R, VA-4] and 65 co-sponsors introduced a bill with the goal of 'reaffirming "In God We Trust' as the official motto of the United States and supporting and encouraging the public display of the national motto in all public buildings, public schools, and other government institutions" (H.Con.Res.274). Read the full text below:

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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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