photo: Leo Reynolds via Flickr

The most interesting thing about the Durbin amendment on interchange fees passing the Senate in the Wall Street reform bill, aside from the fact that the big banks and credit card companies bitterly opposed it, was that it was the first amendment of the entire debate that required a 60-vote threshold for passage. What this means is that someone was prepared to filibuster the amendment, and by agreement, Democrats and Republicans worked out a compromise whereby the cloture vote, which requires 60, and the vote on the amendment were combined into one.

That was how most of the health care debate went. But the other 20 amendments debated and voted on the floor have not faced such a hurdle. That’s why the bill has been able to shift modestly but legitimately to the left. But the 60-vote threshold for interchange fees means that the defenders of the big banks will not fear the fallout of putting an arbitrary threshold on certain pieces, especially if they cut into bank profits. The most disappointing part of this is that they were enabled to do it in secret, by a backroom agreement, at least on the interchange fees amendment (which, incredibly, passed anyway).

Now there’s word that the Merkley-Levin amendment – which would ban banks and bank holding companies from engaging in high-risk proprietary trading, force additional capital requirements on any nonbank financial institution which engages in such speculative trading, and prohibits any financial firm from packaging asset-backed securities to their clients and then take the opposite side of the deal – may also need 60 votes to pass:

Wall Street lobbyists are pushing to require 60 votes to pass the Merkley-Levin amendment, which reflects the Volcker Rule, and aides are being told that 60 may be the threshold. So far, of 21 amendments, Dick Durbin’s credit-card crackdown was the first to need 60, with the rest requiring only a simple majority. A vote could come as early as Monday night. The amendment would bar commercial banks from engaging in day-to-day trading with taxpayer-backed money. “Senator McConnell flew up to New York to tell the Wall Street giants that he would have their back. Republicans couldn’t deliver in keeping the bill off the floor so they’re going to do everything in their power to kill Merkley-Levin,” said a Dem aide.

Merkley-Levin has support from the White House, godfather of the financial reform bill Paul Volcker, and even Senate Banking Committee Chair Chris Dodd. But as we saw with the interchange fees amendment, Republicans and bank defenders have the capacity to force a 60-vote threshold if they’re really spooked that the amendment might pass. This tactic failed with interchange fees and it may fail with Merkley-Levin as well; Senators will have to go on the record as supporting risky casino gambling among systemically important banks and financial institutions.

With even Dodd in support I would imagine that most of the Democratic caucus would hold together for this – clearly the amendment has at least 50 supporters. Public Citizen’s whip count has 30 solid yes votes and five others – including Republican Richard Lugar – in the lean yes column. Given how other votes have gone during the debate, I would imagine Chuck Grassley, Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins, George LeMieux, Roger Wicker and John Ensign represent other Republican targets.

The other hurdle that any votes on Monday will have to clear is the fact that Blanche Lincoln and Arlen Specter, both facing tough primaries on Tuesday, will probably not be available for votes in the chamber.

If Dodd supports the Merkley-Levin amendment, he should force a filibuster on it. He should ask unanimous consent to vote on the amendment without any super-majority thresholds, and force Mitch McConnell or some other suck-up to the banks to object. People should know who the human shields for Wall Street are.

The most interesting thing about the Durbin amendment on interchange fees passing the Senate in the Wall Street reform bill, aside from the fact that the big banks and credit card companies bitterly opposed it, was that it was the first amendment of the entire debate that required a 60-vote threshold for passage. What this means is that someone was prepared to filibuster the amendment, and by agreement, Democrats and Republicans worked out a compromise whereby the cloture vote, which requires 60, and the vote on the amendment were combined into one.

That was how most of the health care debate went. But the other 20 amendments debated and voted on the floor have not faced such a hurdle. That’s why the bill has been able to shift modestly but legitimately to the left. But the 60-vote threshold for interchange fees means that the defenders of the big banks will not fear the fallout of putting an arbitrary threshold on certain pieces, especially if they cut into bank profits. The most disappointing part of this is that they were enabled to do it in secret, by a backroom agreement, at least on the interchange fees amendment (which, incredibly, passed anyway).

Now there’s word that the Merkley-Levin amendment – which would ban banks and bank holding companies from engaging in high-risk proprietary trading, force additional capital requirements on any nonbank financial institution which engages in such speculative trading, and prohibits any financial firm from packaging asset-backed securities to their clients and then take the opposite side of the deal – may also need 60 votes to pass.

Wall Street lobbyists are pushing to require 60 votes to pass the Merkley-Levin amendment, which reflects the Volcker Rule, and aides are being told that 60 may be the threshold. So far, of 21 amendments, Dick Durbin’s credit-card crackdown was the first to need 60, with the rest requiring only a simple majority. A vote could come as early as Monday night. The amendment would bar commercial banks from engaging in day-to-day trading with taxpayer-backed money. “Senator McConnell flew up to New York to tell the Wall Street giants that he would have their back. Republicans couldn’t deliver in keeping the bill off the floor so they’re going to do everything in their power to kill Merkley-Levin,” said a Dem aide.

Merkley-Levin has support from the White House, godfather of the financial reform bill Paul Volcker, and even Senate Banking Committee Chair Chris Dodd. But as we saw with the interchange fees amendment, Republicans and bank defenders have the capacity to force a 60-vote threshold if they’re really spooked that the amendment might pass. This tactic failed with interchange fees and it may fail with Merkley-Levin as well; Senators will have to go on the record as supporting risky casino gambling among systemically important banks and financial institutions.

With even Dodd in support I would imagine that most of the Democratic caucus would hold together for this – clearly the amendment has at least 50 supporters. Public Citizen’s whip count has 30 solid yes votes and five others – including Republican Richard Lugar – in the lean yes column. Given how other votes have gone during the debate, I would imagine Chuck Grassley, Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins, George LeMieux, Roger Wicker and John Ensign represent other Republican targets.

The other hurdle that any votes on Monday will have to clear is the fact that Blanche Lincoln and Arlen Specter, both facing tough primaries on Tuesday, will probably not be available for votes in the chamber.

If Dodd supports the Merkley-Levin amendment, he should force a filibuster on it. He should ask unanimous consent to vote on the amendment without any super-majority thresholds, and force Mitch McConnell or some other suck-up to the banks to object. People should know who the human shields for Wall Street are.

David Dayen

David Dayen