Senate fails to end Wall Street reform debate

The Senate failed Wednesday to end debate on legislation reining in Wall Street, delaying a final vote on the measure.

In a 57-42 vote, the Senate failed to pass a procedural motion that would have set up a final vote on the bill by the end of the week. The cloture motion required 60 votes to pass.

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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) blamed Republicans for blocking the bill’s passage, and said he would schedule another cloture vote on Thursday.

Most Republicans voted against the motion, arguing in favor of additional debate on amendments to the sprawling 1,500-page bill.

Democratic Sens. Maria Cantwell (Wash.) and Russ Feingold (Wis.) opposed the measure, while Maine Republican Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins joined Democrats in support.

Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), viewed as a potential “yes” vote, voted against ending debate, saying he would continue to work to improve a “flawed bill.”

“I went to the leader and said I’d be voting for cloture,” said Brown, adding that he had an understanding his reservations with part of the legislation would be resolved. Brown said he is concerned that some Massachusetts financial firms, including MassMutual, would be affected by a new proprietary trading ban. “I had the assurances these things would be addressed,” Brown said.

Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) was absent, and Reid switched his vote at the end so he quickly could call up the bill again. Reid said after the vote that “a senator broke his word with me,” implying that Democrats had an additional vote in support of the measure.

Repeatedly bringing up the bill for a vote was how Reid got it to the Senate floor in the first place. In April, he held a series of votes over a four-day period until he got the 60 he needed to proceed with the legislation.

While Democrats blamed Republicans for protecting Wall Street special interests, the party has also faced resistance from rank-and-file members who are seeking debate on their amendments.

Cantwell said she opposed the cloture motion because the Senate has yet to consider her amendments.

Cantwell is seeking a vote on an amendment she co-sponsored with Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) that aims to toughen enforcement of complex financial derivatives, said John Diamond, Cantwell’s spokesman.

“I couldn’t move forward without a vote on it,” Cantwell said, adding that her support for cloture is contingent on a vote taking place.

Feingold said in a statement that he opposed the measure because it did not put in place “protective firewalls between Main Street banks and Wall Street firms.”

“The test for this legislation is a simple one — whether it will prevent another financial crisis,” Feingold said. “As the bill stands, it fails that test.”

Senators have filed more than 300 amendments since debate began on the measure. Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) said the Senate has considered 60. Many have passed with bipartisan support.

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Republican Sens. George Voinovich (Ohio) and Chuck Grassley (Iowa) both said they voted against ending debate because there are additional amendments they would like to come up for debate. Voinovich carried a sheet listing his concerns, including the bill’s silence on future regulation of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the mortgage finance giants bailed out by taxpayers since 2008.

“We’ve only had 45 amendments we’ve voted on and 32 roll calls. Everything is going smoothly,” Grassley said. “We ought to take some of these up.”

The Senate was already moving toward a vote on at least two controversial amendments. Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) has pushed an amendment to carve out auto dealers from the jurisdiction of a new consumer financial protection regulator.

The amendment is strongly opposed by the White House, the Defense Department and many Democrats. The National Automobile Dealers Association, a powerful grassroots lobby, has pushed loudly for the exemption and won the battle in the House.

Democratic Sens. Carl Levin (Mich.) and Jeff Merkley (Ore.) have been gathering support for an amendment that would prohibit proprietary trading at big banks. The amendment would also impose higher capital standards on non-banks. Republican leaders have objected to the amendment.

Next week marks the last week the Senate is in session before a weeklong Memorial Day recess.

This story was updated at 8:39 p.m.