There’s a bit of unfinished business happening in the Senate on the financial reform bill today. Senators will vote on two nonbinding “motions to instruct” conferees of the conference committee ironing out differences between the House and Senate versions. These nonbinding instructions would offer the sense of the Senate on how the conferees should proceed, but it in no way presumes certain language will be in the final version of the bill.

One of these motions concerns an amendment by Kay Bailey Hutchison that didn’t get a floor vote, which would weaken the already-meager restrictions on proprietary trading inherent in the bill. The other motion deals with the auto dealer exemption to the Consumer Financial Protection Agency. The White House frames this as a last stand for the lobbyists of the auto dealers, but in reality getting the exemption, which is in the House version, past the conference committee is a remote possibility regardless of the nonbinding vote. The White House strongly opposes the exemption, and has gone up to the edge of threatening a veto if such a carve-out is included. They continued to press their case today:

Is there any question that these lenders should be subject to the same standards as any local or community bank that provides loans?

Auto dealer-lenders sell auto loans to working families every single day, and while most dealers are no doubt above board, some cannot resist the bigger profits that come from inflating rates, hiding fees, and tacking on over-priced add-ons.

These profits can lead some dealers to treat their customers unfairly. There are countless stories of hard-working people who are never even contacted when their car loans are promised by dealers and then fail to go through forcing them to borrow at a higher interest rate or to swallow the cost already paid toward the purchase of their car while giving up the vehicle.

The vote today does provide an opportunity to see, in full view, who supports consumer protections and who supports auto dealers getting a free pass. Public Citizen, one of the pro-reform groups working on this effort, has a guide to which members of the Senate would be most likely to support the auto dealers on this one. And an interesting name tops the list.

So far in the 2010 election cycle, 44 senators have received $380,693 from the auto dealer industry’s employees and political action committees (PACs), according to Public Citizen’s analysis of data provided by the Center for Responsive Politics (www.opensecrets.org). The ten largest recipients – seven Republicans and three Democrats – have received more than half of the industry’s contributions to the Senate this cycle. The top two recipients are Sens. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) (who has received $40,000) and Richard Burr (R-N.C.) ($31,050).

It will be fun to see whether or not Blanche Lincoln can be bought off for a mere $40,000 to exempt from federal consumer protection laws the largest financial purchase anyone makes outside of a home. Surely Bill Halter’s campaign will be watching.

We should know around 5:30pm ET.

UPDATE: Voting is happening on this right now.

…clearly this would have passed the Senate. So far, around a dozen Democrats have offered their support, including stalwarts like Barbara Boxer, Jay Rockefeller and Maria Cantwell. The Merkley-Levin second-degree amendment strategy proved to be a real savior for the CFPA’s ability to oversee predatory auto lenders.

Lincoln hasn’t voted yet, as far as I can tell, but Mark Pryor voted Yes, so I’m assuming Miss $40,000 will do so as well.

…Lots of Congresscritters are flipping their votes to Yes now that it’s clear that this will pass, and that it’s a nonbinding vote and something to prove that you’re “pro-business”. It passed 60-30. I don’t think Lincoln voted.