Dems hit 60 on Wall Street bill

Democrats appeared on Monday to have won the 60 votes they need to move Wall Street reform through the Senate when Republican Sens. Olympia Snowe (Maine) and Scott Brown (Mass.) announced their support for a conference report.

Democrats already had commitments from 57 of their members, and Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins had said before the July 4 recess that she was inclined to vote for the conference report.

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The decisions by Snowe and Brown mean Democrats will not have to wait for West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin (D) to name a successor to the late Sen. Robert Byrd, who died two weeks ago, in order to send the Wall Street reform bill to President Barack Obama’s desk. 

The 2,315-page conference report is the second major legislative overhaul, after healthcare reform, that has been approved by the Democratic Congress. The legislation aims to prevent future taxpayer-funded bailouts; would boost regulation over credit cards, mortgages and other products; regulate the $600 trillion derivatives market; and increase oversight of broad financial system risks, among other measures.

Snowe described the legislation as an aggressive overhaul of the regulatory system that would help ensure the country avoids another financial catastrophe. She said she decided to support the legislation after a thorough review, and noted that the final bill preserved several amendments she had offered to preserve small businesses’ access to capital.

“While not perfect, the legislation takes necessary steps to implement meaningful regulatory reforms, create strong consumer protections and restore confidence in the American financial system,” Snowe said.

Brown, the Massachusetts Republican who succeeded Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) in January, declared his support for the bill after Democrats removed a provision he had opposed in the conference report that would have levied $19 billion in taxes on financial firms.

“I appreciate the efforts to improve the bill, especially the removal of the $19 billion bank tax. As a result, it is a better bill than it was when this whole process started,” Brown said in a statement on Monday. “While it isn’t perfect, I expect to support the bill when it comes up for a vote.”

Collins, Snowe, Brown and Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa all voted in favor of the Senate bill in May, though Grassley voted against a procedural motion to end debate on the bill. Democrats are not counting on Grassley to support the conference report after indications that he has soured on the current version of the bill.

Democrats had hoped to win final approval of the Wall Street bill before the July 4 recess, but Byrd’s death erased those plans by depriving the party of a critical vote.

Brown, Snowe and Collins also had raised objections to the $19 billion in new taxes on banks included by conferees to pay for the cost of the overhaul.

The only Democrat expected to vote against the bill is Sen. Russ Feingold (Wis.). Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) voted against the Senate version of the legislation but has said she will support the conference report.

Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) is still undecided, but leaders said they are expecting his vote.

Most Republicans have criticized the legislation, arguing it doesn’t do enough to end the problem of firms that are viewed as “too big to fail” and that remains silent on regulation of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two mortgage giants taken over by the government in 2008.