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Bipartisan Debit Card Vote Has Partisan Implications

Jun 9, 2011

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Reported by

Frank James

The Senate fight over how much banks can charge retailers when customers use debit cards may have ended with financial institutions losing a 54-45 vote Wednesday that didn't fall along the usual partisan lines. Fifteen Republicans voted with Democrats against the banks, for instance.

But that doesn't mean there weren't partisan implications in the vote.

If those senators voting for the banks had gotten the six more votes, the outcome would have been different. It would have represented the first major nick in the Dodd-Frank financial overhaul legislation.

And Dodd-Frank was seen as Democratic Party legislation. It passed on a barely bipartisan vote of 60-39 vote last July with only three Senate Republicans voting yes on a bill that had already passed the then-Democratic-controlled House.

But control of the House has changed. Since taking control, Republicans in that chamber have tried to scale back Dodd-Frank. But the Democrats' slim control of the Senate remains a roadblock.

As Victoria McGrane and Maya Jackson Randall reported in The Wall Street Journal:

The Wednesday vote strengthened the conviction held by many in Washington that changing Dodd-Frank will be next to impossible as long as Democrats control the Senate (italics added.) House Republicans have teed up several bills that would roll back major provisions of the law, including several bills to weaken the independence of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, but critics say they are most likely dead on arrival in the Senate.

Even though it focused on a once-obscure corner of the financial world, the swipe-fee provision had become a prime focus of the battle over the future of the Dodd-Frank overhaul, because it touched both banks and consumers directly.

The financial industry's efforts to pull the threads out of the Dodd-Frank law may have hit a snag in the Senate as it's currently constituted. But Sen. Harry Reid only commands a 53-vote majority, 51 Democrats and two independents who caucus with the Democrats.

It's safe to say the changes to the Dodd-Frank law the financial industry seeks, would more likely happen with a Republican Senate. Given that, it also seems safe to say the financial industry will do what it can to make that happen.

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