This vote was on whether to begin debate on a bill that aims to close gaps in financial regulations, strengthen oversight of consumer lending and more closely oversee financial derivatives. Derivatives are, in essence, very complex financial contracts that businesses use as a hedge against large changes in the price of some commodities such as gasoline, but that have also become popular with speculators looking to gamble on big profits. Speculation in derivatives, relatively unhampered by regulation, is often blamed for partially contributing to the financial meltdown in 2008.
Typically bills are brought to the floor through a procedural motion called a “motion to proceed,” which is usually approved by voice vote as a routine matter. However, if a senator wants to hold up consideration, all he or she has to do is remove consent – which was the case with this bill. Instead, the Democratic leadership called a vote on beginning debate on the bill. This was necessary because Republicans had threatened to hold up the bill’s consideration indefinitely with a filibuster, causing Senate Majority Harry Reid, D-Nev., to file what is known as a “cloture motion,” which, in essence, is a vote on bringing debate on a bill or amendment to a close, which is what this vote was on.
If the Senate votes to “invoke cloture” – or bring debate to a close – then lawmakers must either hold a vote on the legislation, amendment or motion in question, or move on to other business. This type of motion is most often called on contentious legislation where the leadership is concerned that consideration could be held up indefinitely by a handful of senators. This was the third cloture vote on the motion to proceed called on the bill (see votes 124 and 126, which were unsuccessful).
President Obama has made this Wall Street overhaul one of his top priorities. Democrats say the bill would help prevent the kinds of activities that contributed to the 2008 financial collapse, but Republicans argue that in fact the bill would just open the door to more financial malfeasance.
No Republicans spoke specifically against opening debate on this vote, but in the past they argued that the bill is flawed and needs reworking before it is brought to the floor.
Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said Republicans are joining with Wall Street to obstruct the bill.
“They keep saying they want to improve the bill. Well, is that not what the debate and amendment process is about? If someone has a better idea, offer it as an amendment. Let’s debate it. Maybe it is a better idea. Maybe we will adopt it; maybe we will not. But it seems that is the way we ought to be conducting the Nation’s business on the Senate floor,” Harkin said. “We are not cutting off anyone. It will be open for amendment. Why are the Republicans so afraid of offering amendments on the Senate floor if they have a better idea on how we should do this?”
By a vote of 56-42, the motion to begin debating the bill was rejected. Though more voted yes than no, this particular type of vote requires 60 votes in order to be considered approved. All but two Democrats present voted to open debate (Harry Reid voted no; he changed his vote to no at the last minute in order to preserve his right to call the measure back for a revote at a later time). Every Republican present voted against opening debate. The end result is that the Senate rejected the motion to begin debating a bill that would overhaul the financial system, for the third time. (However, Democrats continued to threaten to call new cloture votes on the bill, ratcheting up the pressure on Republicans to continue to appear to be blocking holding Wall Street accountable for its actions. Shortly after this vote failed, Republicans called off their filibuster and allowed the bill to be opened for debate.)