I’ve been using a #lordofthefliesonthesenatefloor hashtag to discuss the Wall Street reform bill today, and I think it accurately describes what’s going on. Basically, Harry Reid tried to line up a cloture vote today to end debate, and he got buy-off from the center-right, with Ben Nelson and Susan Collins agreeing to vote for it. But the haphazard nature of the amendments process, with Republicans blocking consumer-friendly strengthening amendments at the last minute, has made some Democrats furious. Reid tried to set up a few amendment votes before cloture, but Carl Levin objected because the Merkley-Levin amendment (the Volcker rule) wasn’t among them. The Democrats took it offline, heading to a caucus meeting to figure this out. They are expected back at 3:15, though who knows.

In the meantime, Maria Cantwell, one of those frustrated Democrats who has been stonewalled on her amendment to restore Glass-Steagall protections to the bill, officially says she is a no on cloture at the moment. Cantwell probably has a half-dozen allies in that opinion, at a minimum. And this is why you haven’t seen a cloture vote today.

Most of these progressive amendments that the GOP is blocking from a vote (and they are doing that, objecting to unanimous consent for consideration of the amendments) are likely to have majority support – that’s why the GOP is blocking them. And without them, you have a decent bill (especially if the derivatives piece hangs on for dear life) but nothing transformative and not nearly enough to prevent another financial meltdown. Of course, the White House wants a win and wants the amendment brigade to end:

In the midst of the dispute, Larry Summers, President Obama’s top economic adviser, came to the Capitol Tuesday to urge Senate Democrats to finish debate on Wall Street reform. “If you vote for cloture right now and don’t add any more amendments, we will have solved the issues that led to crisis. Had this been law, as is, in 2007, we would not have had the crisis,” Summers said, according to a person briefed on his discussion and confirmed by a senior Democratic aide. Matt Vogel, a Summers aide, said that the quote wasn’t rendered accurately but did capture the spirit of his remarks. “He did say that if the bill had been law there would have been a totally different situation,” said Vogel. He definitely did talk about what a difference it would have made in responding to the crisis if the bill had been law then.”

Vogel said that Summers did not intend to weigh in on the debate within the Democratic caucus over whether to cut off the amendment process and move to a cloture vote Wednesday, which would set up a final vote on the bill for Friday. Rather, he was putting forward the standard and oft-repeated administration position that the bill is a strong one and deserves passage.

Obviously Senate Democrats don’t agree. They feel abused by the leadership and want a fair hearing for their amendments. Levin and Jeff Merkley even went to the extraordinary step of attaching their amendment as a second-degree amendment to a vote that will happen post-cloture, which would exempt car dealers from the federal consumer protection bureau’s oversight.

I don’t think anyone knows how the Senate Dems will figure this one out. There are issues of institutional power and the ability to get fair treatment in the caucus bound up in this, along with the desire to get tougher on Wall Street.

David Dayen

David Dayen