Senate Puts Off Vote On Bank Bill To Round Up Votes

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WASHINGTON – Senate Democrats, pressured by this week’s death of long-time leader Robert Byrd of West Virginia, will delay a final vote on the bank reform bill until after next week’s July 4th recess while they struggle to find enough Republican votes to pass the bill.

The delay comes as the House passed the bill Wednesday night on a party-line vote, leaving the Senate vote the final action on the 2,300-page, landmark legislation.

The efforts by credit unions to defeat the bill because of the interchange amendment were given a jolt yesterday when NCUA endorsed passage of the bill. The backing of the federal regulator, in contrast to the opposition of the formal credit union lobby, carries great weight with Congress.

NCUA Chairman Debbie Matz told House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank, who crafted the legislation, she strongly supports the bill’s reforms. “I am confident that this measure will strengthen the American financial services sector, benefitting credit unions and credit union members in multiple ways,” Matz wrote in a letter hand-delivered to the Massachusetts Democrat Tuesday night as Frank was preparing to manage a vote on the bill on the House floor as early as this afternoon.

Matz cited provisions of the bill extending a temporary federal guarantee of all non-interest-bearing transaction accounts to credit unions; making permanent the increase in federal deposit insurance to $250,000 per account; an NCUA seat on a new Financial Stability Oversight Council and the creation of a consumer financial protection bureau as reasons the agency supports the bill.

She did not mention the interchange amendment, which will set up the Federal Reserve as a regulator of debit card fees and has caused an overwhelming majority of credit unions to oppose the bill.

The delay will give Senate Democrat leaders more time to convince three wavering Republicans who voted for the bill last month to approve the final package. A last-second adjustment to a proposed bank assessment was aimed at winning over those three votes.

It also will give credit unions and other opponents of the measure time to convince one or more wavering Senate Republicans to vote no.

The Democrats need 60 votes under Senate procedure to overcome an expected filibuster by Republican Senators. Byrd’s death leaves the Democrats with 58 nominal votes (56 Democrats and two Independents who routinely vote with them), but at least one Democrat, Russell Feingold of Wisconsin, said he won’t vote for the bill. That means Democrats will have to hold on to at least three of four Republicans who voted for the bill the first time.

The Senate and House need to vote the bill again because of all the changes that were added when the two separate versions were combined.

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