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News from the Votemaster            

Wall Street Reform is Moving Fast     Permalink

President Obama gave a speech in New York yesterday to Wall Street executives and others asking for them to work with him on reforming Wall Street. Politically, it may look good to some voters that he is trying to cooperate with them, but of course they will resist all reforms tooth and nail. Nevertheless, there are signs that the Democrats have learned one major lesson from the health-insurance battle: don't let it drag out. Because the health insurance battle took so long, it gave opponents time to mobilize. That won't happen this time. Senate majority leader Harry Reid is going to force a vote Monday on a motion to begin debate on a bill to reform Wall Street. He has also said if it fails, he will repeatedly introduce it and force votes over and over. Given how unpopular the Wall Street banks are, no Republican is really looking forward to attack ads this Fall saying: "My opponent voted 15 times to protect the big banks."

However, the Democrats are likely to win the vote Monday (which will merely start the debate) because the Republicans have already softened their rhetoric against it. In fact, in what may be a leading indicator, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), who is up for reelection in 2010, bucked his party and voted with the Democrats on the Agriculture Committee to approve a bill that will regulate derivatives, which were a key factor in the 2008 Wall Street meltdown. This vote does not guarantee that Grassley will vote for cloture Monday, but it would put him in a very awkward position saying (1) I want to regulate derivates but (2) I don't want the Senate to debate the issue. Assuming Reid wins his vote Monday, the bill will start to come together and amendments will be offered and voted on.

Another sign that something serious is brewing is a modern version of the Sherlock Holmes story "The Dog that Did Not Bark." Chuck Schumer, a long-time defender of Wall Street and one of the most visible and audible senators, has been quiet as a mouse on financial reform. This surely means that while he doesn't want to offend his Wall Street donors by cheerleading the bill, he is going to vote for it.

At this point it seems likely that the Republicans will try to weaken the bill to the point of being meaningless in practice rather than trying to kill it altogether. It isn't that they want some kind of a bill, but they all realize that if they kill Wall Street reform, then the midterm elections will all be about how Republicans want to protect Wall Street profits at all costs, and if your house and job are collateral damage, so be it. They have to avoid looking like obstructionists on this one so they can keep the focus on health care and socialism in November. For the Democrats, getting any bill signed into law, no matter how weak, will project an image of power and success to the average voter, who will have little idea of what the bill does.

Democrats Will Introduce Bill to Weaken SCOTUS Ruling on Corporate Political Contributions     Permalink

As a reaction to the recent Supreme Court decision saying that corporations and unions can spend unlimited amounts of money to support or oppose candidates, the Democrats are going to introduce a bill next week that would require CEOs or group leaders to state their support for the ad in the ad itself (as candidates must now do). It would also bar companies receiving $50,000 or more in federal contracts from supporting or opposing candidates and put limits on what foreign corporations can do to influence elections. It does not go as far as some people wanted, namely requiring management to put proposals to spend money on campaigns to a vote of the stockholders.

Udall Will Claim 112th Senate is not a Continuation of the 111th     Permalink

Whut? The headline may seem obscure and inside baseball, but will be tremendously important if it actually happens. Here's the deal. The Democrats are enormously frustrated that just about everything the Senate does now requires 60 votes to invoke cloture and stop a filibuster. It wasn't always like this. During the entire 19th Century there were fewer than two dozen filibusters. Perhaps that was because there weren't any controversial topics then--except maybe for slavery, admitting new states as free or slave, states rights, nullification, secession, civil war, reconstruction, etc. In this session of Congress there have been over 150 filibusters already and we still have more than 6 months to go. Thus what used to be an extremely rare event--maybe twice per decade--has become a daily requirement for doing business. As a consequence the Democrats are now seriously thinking about abolishing Rule 22 (which says a senator can speak until he is finished).

It takes 67 votes to change the Senate rules, which the Democrats don't have now and certainly won't have next year so it might happen like this. Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) has now vowed that at the start of the 112th Congress in January 2011 he will raise a point of order saying that the new (112th) Senate is not a continuation of the old (111th Senate) but a new body that must adopt its own rules and is not bound by rules (such as Rule 22) adopted by previous Senates. At that point there would be rancorous debate and then the president of the Senate, Vice President Joe Biden, could rule that Udall is right. When some Republican challenged Biden, Biden would probably order a vote on it. Extended debate would not be allowed because at that point there would be no rules (as a result of Biden's ruling). So there would be an up-or-down vote to sustain or overturn Biden's ruling. If the Democrats maintained even a small majority (which is likely) they would sustain the ruling and the Senate would have no rules. Then Udall or some other senator would propose a new set of rules, presumably all the old ones except Rule 22 (or maybe a modified Rule 22 allowing a series of cloture votes, the last of which required only a majority to stop debate). These new rules would then be accepted by the small Democratic majority amid much screaming by the opposition.

The chance of this scenario taking place depends a lot on what happens in Nevada in November. If majority leader Harry Reid is defeated for reelection--which seems likely at the moment--then Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) currently #3 on the Democratic totem pole and Sen. Dick Durbin (#2) will duke it out for the post of majority leader. Both are committed to changing Rule 22, and Schumer is now holding hearings on the subject. Of course whoever wins, will have to talk Biden into going along with this plan, but if Biden sees a Senate with, say, 52 Democrats and 48 Republicans, he will realize that unless he goes along, nothing will happen during the 112th Congress, thus hurting Obama's chance for reelection in 2012. If Reid wins, all bets are off because he is not nearly as aggressive and partisan as Durbin and Schumer.

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