by ilene - May 21st, 2010 2:21 pm
Courtesy of Simon Johnson at Baseline Scenario
After 9 months of hard fighting, yesterday financial reform came down to this: an amendment, proposed by Senators Jeff Merkley and Carl Levin that would have forced big banks to get rid of their speculative proprietary trading activities (i.e., a relatively strong version of the Volcker Rule.)
The amendment had picked up a great deal of support in recent weeks, partly because of unflagging support from Paul Volcker and partly because of the broader debate around the Brown-Kaufman amendment (which would have forced the biggest 6 banks to become smaller). Brown-Kaufman failed, 33-61, but it demonstrated that a growing number of senators were willing to confront the power of our biggest and worst banks.
Yet, at the end of the day, the Merkley-Levin amendment did not even get a vote. Why?
Partly this was because of procedural maneuvers. Merkley-Levin could only get a vote if another amendment, proposed by Senator Brownback (on exempting auto dealers from new consumer protection rules) got a vote. Late yesterday afternoon, Senator Brownback was persuaded, presumably by his Republican colleagues and by financial lobbyists, to withdraw his amendment.
Of course, Merkley-Levin was only in this awkward position because of an earlier lack of wholehearted support from the Democratic leadership – and from the White House. Again, the long reach of Wall Street was at work.
But the important point here is quite different. If Merkley-Levin did not have the votes, it was in the interest of the megabanks to have it come to the floor and be defeated. That would have been a clear victory for the status quo.
But Merkley-Levin had momentum and could potentially have passed – reflecting a big change of opinion within the Senate (and more broadly around the country). The big banks were forced into overdrive to stop it.
The Volcker Rule, in its weaker Dodd bill form (“do a study and think about implementing”), perhaps will survive the upcoming House-Senate conference – although, because this process likely will not be televised, all kinds of bad things may happen behind closed doors. Regulators may also take the Volcker Rule more seriously – but the most probable outcome is that the Fed and other officials will get a great deal of discretion regarding how to implement the principles, and they will completely fudge the issue.
by ilene - May 20th, 2010 3:30 pm
Senator Jeff Merkley took to the Senate floor on Tuesday, complete with fist pounding, to air his frustration over the blockage of the Merkley-Levin amendment that would fortify the Volcker Rule. The rule restricts banks that have access to FDIC insurance from speculative trading. What he wanted to know: “Why is Wall Street winning and Main Street losing tonight in the US senate?” Watch his passionate speech:
See also: Merkley-Levin Amendment Can’t Get a Vote
by ilene - May 20th, 2010 5:43 am
Is this a joke? There’s a broad effort, lead by Shelby, to block a discussion and vote on the Merkley-Levin amendment. Even with a 60 vote requirement and some democratic senators missing (with “one hand tied behind our backs” as Merkley said on the floor), it is still being blocked. David Dayen has the best roundup of the financial massacre from last night. If you get a chance, watch video of Merkley and Levin fighting for their amendment last night. They were on fire.
Between the last minute changes, the way the bill has morphed into an endless stream of studies to be ignored at a later date, the dropping of any of the strong progressive resolution mechanisms in the House and the blocking of votes and discussion on Dorgan, Merkley-Levin and Cantwell’s amendments, this has really been a massacre of what was originally a fairly decent bill. Both Reid and the President need to step in before this situation becomes even worse.
Dorgan slipped in his amendment by attaching it to another amendment, which nobody seemed to have caught. The Senate voted immediately to not have a discussion on the Dorgan amendment, thus having to avoid any responsibility for it.
As we discussed before, members of the “Chartered Financial Analyst”, or CFA, community were polled about the Volcker Rule. CFA’s are considered extremely well-qualified within the financial sector, and here’s how they voted:
Even reforms supported by a majority of polled financial CFA’s can’t get a discussion on the Senate floor. But having to deal with it daily, CFA’s are likely to feel how concentrated, politically powerful and abusive the current US financial system has grown.
Mike Konczal is a fellow with the Roosevelt Institute.