Senate should keep debating financial regulation
As Senate majority leader, Harry Reid has to juggle a lot of bills, and he has to carefully, jealously, guard the Senate's limited floor time. Republicans use the filibuster process to stretch the votes on non-controversial legislation -- like, say, next week's extension of jobless benefits -- so they take many days rather than a couple of hours, and they use objections to unanimous consent as a way to slow the Senate's general work. The result has been to turn Senate floor time into a precious, and worryingly limited, commodity, which suits the Republicans just fine as less floor time means fewer Democratic accomplishments. But the more I think about Harry Reid's insistence that the Senate finish financial regulation this week so it can move onto other priorities next week, the more I think Reid is in the wrong on this one.
As Annie Lowrey reminded me, the process that the financial-regulation bill followed to the floor was not a normal process. Normally, big bills are subjected to intense scrutiny and many, many amendments in one or more committees. Think back to health care, which spent months getting debated and amended in both the Finance and the HELP committees before being tweaked yet again when Reid merged the two bills -- and all of that happened before the bill hit the Senate floor. And that was all happening on an idea that the Senate understood quite well, that the media had been focused on for a long time, and that the presidential candidates had debated during the 2008 campaign.
Not so with financial regulation. Chris Dodd passed it out of the Banking Committee on a party-line vote in about 20 minutes. No amendments. No consideration. The idea, as Dodd explained it, was to strike a deal with Richard Shelby and amend it on the Senate floor. The result of this, of course, was that the only real space for consideration of the bill was on the Senate floor. And most senators didn't seriously engage on the issue till very recently.
Whether you believe that the repeal of Glass-Steagall contributed to the crisis or not, surely, as Maria Cantwell argues, the issue deserves consideration in this bill. And because that work wasn't done in the Senate Banking Committee, it has to be done on the Senate floor. If that means the schedule gets stretched and the Senate has to work weekends and through Memorial Day, then so be it.
"Remember," Reid said at a press conference yesterday, "this is a big piece of legislation, and there is no way, as Senator McCaskill said, that we can make this perfect." But no one is asking for, or expecting, perfection. The request is that the amendment process to be given a little bit longer to play out, at least until the really major amendments -- like restoring Glass-Steagall and putting the Volcker rule into place -- are off the table. We're still suffering from the aftereffects of a brutal financial crisis that was, at least partially, the result of the Senate's inattention to financial regulation. So if the Senate needs another week or two to get the regulatory response closer to right, then it should take that time.