Moments ago, the Senate agreed to proceed to debate, by unanimous consent, on the Wall Street reform bill. The big question now is what the debate and amendment process will look like; in particular, will the amendments be allowed to pass with a majority vote?

There are a host of good ideas out there to improve the bill, and in addition Republicans want to introduce amendments. Mitch McConnell said that his caucus intends to offer many amendments, with reasonable and short time agreements, and Harry Reid agreed to this in his statement:

“Nothing has changed from our end since Monday. We’ve always wanted to start the debate on Wall Street reform with an open, bipartisan amendment process. I will offer the first amendment, combining the best parts of the Banking Committee’s and the Agriculture Committee’s bills. Obstruction has wasted enough of the American people’s time and now it’s time to get to work.”

This alludes to the derivatives piece, and there’s no telling what it means. In particular, the measure to force banks to spin off their lucrative swaps trading desks may not survive such a combining; the Federal Reserve spoke out against that particular issue, and even offered a reinstatement of Glass-Steagall as a preferable alternative. The big banks make a mint off these trading desks, and really want to keep them.

But more than that, the real question is about the majority vote for amendments. Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) told blogger Mike Stark today that every amendment would need 60 votes. That would be a subversion of democracy; it’s exactly what was determined for health care, to protect the bill. There is no deal, bipartisan or otherwise, to protect on Wall Street reform, and the majority should be allowed to decide the components of the bill. That’s what Jeff Merkley told me yesterday, that a process without open, majority-vote amendments would be a “travesty for democracy.”

A Senate leadership aide didn’t know what would be available on the Senate floor, but said that a 60-vote threshold “sounds plausible.”

If progressives and those in conference who want to legitimately do something with this bill don’t speak up now, and condition their ultimate votes on a truly open amendment process, they cannot say a word when the finished product fails to live up to their expectations.

As a side note, Annie Lowrey has a very good guide to some of the better amendments in the bill. They include:

1) The Safe Banking Act (Brown-Kaufman) to restrict the size and leverage of financial firms
2) The Sanders amendment to audit the Federal Reserve.
3) Cantwell-McCain, which would reinstate Glass-Steagall provisions.
4) The Volcker rule amendment (Levin-Merkley) which is somewhat similar to both the Safe Banking Act and Cantwell-McCain.
5) Something to reform the credit rating agencies.
6) The Reed amendment to make the Consumer Financial Protection Agency independent of the Federal Reserve.