Byrd Passing Leaves Senate In Flux As Bank Bill Vote Looms

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WASHINGTON – The credit union lobby was jolted this morning by the death of Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia at 92, putting final passage of the bank reform bill and its interchange amendment temporarily in doubt.

The death of Byrd, the longest-serving member of Congress and for years a leader of the Senate’s Democrats, could jeopardize the Senate’s planned voted for the final bank reform, which needs 60 Senate votes to overcome an expected filibuster by the Senate’s Republicans.

Byrd’s death leaves the Senate Democrats with just 58 members, noted to Brad Thaler, senior lobbyist for NAFCU. That means the Democrats will need the votes of the two Democrats who voted against the bill when it passed the Senate last month, and two Senate Republicans, who will all be targets of intense lobbying over the bill. “It’s expected there will be a lot of pressure to pass it,” said Thaler, who suggested the Democrat leaders could choose to delay a final vote on the bill.

Both CUNA and NAFCU, which have come out against the bill, were reluctant to discuss lobbying strategy this morning, lest it seem in bad taste so soon after the iconic Senator’s death. But talk all over Washington this morning was how the calculus of one fewer Democrat will affect key legislation in the Senate in the face of near unanimous opposition by Senate Republicans on many bills, including the bank bill.

The Democrats are expected to win over the two dissenting Democrats to give them 58 votes, and they hope to be able to retain the votes of at least two Senate Republicans who voted for the bill the first time. But the margin is a narrow one in getting to 60 votes.

The House is expected to vote final passage of the bill, now known as the Dodd-Frank Act, after the Senate and House Democrats who put the massive bill together, tomorrow. The bill, now 2,000 pages long, would enact major reforms to the banking system, including getting the Federal Reserve into the regulation of interchange fees on debit card transactions. The interchange amendment, which is expected to result in lower interchange revenues for credit unions and banks, has turned credit unions against the bill.

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