Rarely have Senate Democrats been so calm about losing a vote. And that’s what it looks like will happen in Monday’s showdown with Republicans over financial regulatory reform.
Still, Democrats are bringing with them several game plans to ensure that no matter the outcome, they emerge with the advantage.
With continued uncertainty about whether they can avoid a filibuster of the measure, Democrats said they are prepared to either excoriate Republicans for blocking needed Wall Street reforms or hold hands with them around a compromise bill heading into a two- to three-week floor debate.
Though staffers for Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Chairman Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and ranking member Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) worked through the weekend to finalize a bipartisan deal, both Senators indicated Sunday that they would not likely have an agreement before Monday’s 5 p.m vote.
“I think we’re closer than we’ve ever been,” Shelby said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “Will we get a bill by tomorrow? I doubt it.” Dodd echoed that sentiment, saying, “In the next few days — weeks — we’ll get it together. Maybe even tomorrow.”
The 59-Member Democratic Conference needs at least one Republican to come aboard to limit debate on the motion to proceed to the bill. That motion would allow the Senate to begin formally debating the overhaul.
Democrats are betting that all 41 Republicans won’t be able to stand the promised heat they’ll get for opposing the debate. But Shelby said that without an agreement with Dodd, Republicans were united in opposition.
“The Democrats will not get cloture,” Shelby said. “But we’ll continue to work.”
Democrats were unfazed.
“We’re unafraid of pushing ahead because even if we are on a collision course to having that vote without a deal, it just gets us onto a bill,” one senior Senate Democratic aide said. “Even if they do [filibuster] and the political chips fall where they may, we think we end up on the better end of that situation.”
Another Senate Democratic aide said Democrats are approaching the vote as “heads we win, tails you lose.”
Even if Dodd and Shelby come to an agreement by Monday, it is unclear whether a deal in principle would be enough to secure the 60 votes needed to move forward.
If Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) beats back the threatened filibuster, aides said another vote on the issue could occur as soon as Wednesday or Thursday. Democrats are calculating that they will be able to dominate the news cycle and that Republicans will feel pressure by then to change their votes.
“You can expect the Democratic leadership to allow Republicans to suffer the slings and arrows of the media for a few days,” another senior Senate Democratic aide said. “If this vote fails, these [Republicans] are going to get pounded.”
The aide cautioned that the timing of any revote would depend on the status of the Dodd-Shelby talks.
Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) expressed confidence Thursday that if Democrats lose the first vote, they will be able to win the second.
“There’s some Republican Senators who have said they’ve promised [Minority Leader] Mitch McConnell [R-Ky.] one no’ vote on the motion to proceed but not two,” Durbin said. “I think there are a lot of second thoughts on the other side of the aisle about whether or not they want to stand as one opposed to Wall Street reform.”
Republicans, however, said they suspect Democrats might hold off on a deal in order to tar Republicans as being anti-reform and pro-Wall Street.
“Our take is that if they have a compromise or not, they will not announce anything before the vote on Monday,” one senior Senate GOP aide said Friday. “They want to headline hunt Monday and then come back to a bipartisan agreement after that.”
Regardless, the aide said, “Our guys are not going to cave … if they put this thing to a test” Monday without a deal.
McConnell secured the signatures of all 41 Republicans on a letter last week calling for a bipartisan agreement before any of them would vote to begin considering a bill. But support for that position has been shaky, and several Republicans have acknowledged they are nervous about stopping the measure from advancing.
Democrats hope to capitalize on that GOP anxiety, and Reid spokesman Jim Manley basically laid out the Democrats’ message points in a statement Friday.
“Sen. McConnell is playing games while hard-working Americans struggle. Despite his change in tune, he’s ordering his party to prevent us from even debating how to hold Wall Street accountable for the reckless gambling that caused 8 million Americans to lose their jobs and millions more to lose their savings and livelihoods,” Manley said. “We will continue to work with any Republican who shares these goals. But as we’ve made clear throughout this debate, we will not stand for efforts to obstruct or water down this reform, or push for carve-outs for Wall Street.”
If the bill is blocked, Democrats plan to continue taking jabs at McConnell and other Republicans for holding fundraisers and meeting with banking lobbyists and Wall Street executives. Republicans said they would counter by hammering Democrats for short-circuiting the bipartisan process, assuming the majority insists on a vote Monday.
“Just about an hour ago, the Majority Leader said, I’m not going to waste any more time of the American people while they come up with some agreement,'” McConnell said on the floor Thursday in a preview of the GOP’s expected talking points this week. “Well, Mr. President, I don’t think bipartisanship is a waste of time. … Is it too much to ask, that should an agreement be reached, that we take the time to make sure every member of the Senate and our constituents can actually read the bill and understand the details?”