Feingold and the Financial-Reform Vote Hunt.

medium_feingold.jpgThere are a lot nervous-making rumors about who will vote for financial reform and why and when, which are summed up pretty well in this story. While passage is more difficult now than anyone had anticipated, it's not time to panic. The current situation reminds me of Washington right after Scott Brown -- also at the center of our current drama -- was elected and everyone despaired of health-care reform's chances to become law. We saw how that went. Indeed, if you think going back to conference to fix a few issues is too much of  a hassle, don't forget the complex logistics of passing health-care reform through both houses.

Look at the fundamentals of the legislation: The financial-reform bill is popular, majorities have already voted for it, and there will soon be another Democrat from West Virginia in the Senate. Even the wavering Republicans haven't really ruled out voting yes. They're just playing coy to see what else they can get, which is why you're hearing a lot of "I need to read the bill." Give Harry Reid some time to work, and activists time to remind the wishy-washy of the political salience of these issues.

That said, it'll be close, which is why I'll second Kevin Drum's comments on Russ Feingold's decision to not only oppose the bill but also filibuster it. I don't disagree with Feingold's policy critiques, but the idea that blocking passage of this bill will benefit anyone is absurd -- there isn't going to be another chance to do comprehensive reform anytime soon, and this bill is an improvement over the status quo, as Feingold even admits. Should this bill die by Feingold's hand, he'll go down in history as Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan did during the 1994 health-care debate -- an iconoclast whose ego-driven obstruction helped kill reform for a generation.

Indeed, Feingold is well within his rights to vote against the bill, but his obstruction also hurts procedural reform in the Senate. The Senate should need to return to a norm where a filibuster is used to actually extend debate and provide for amendments -- but many of Feingold's favored reforms, though not all, did receive votes, and were rejected. At this point, extending debate is simply an effort to kill a bill that the Wisconsin senator knows would otherwise pass a majority vote. Buying into the the idea that any major bill should require a supermajority is a recipe for a dysfunctional Senate for years to come.

Feingold is up for re-election this year, and running neck and neck with his Republican opponents. Wonder what voters will think when he tells them he had the chance to improve financial regulation, but when he didn't get everything he wanted, he took his toys and went home.

-- Tim Fernholz

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