With Olympia Snowe joining Susan Collins and Scott Brown by signing on to the financial reform bill, many outlets have reported that this gives the Democrats the votes they need to pass the measure. That’s only half-true; Democrats may have the votes after a replacement Senator is named in West Virginia. But at the moment, the fate of the bill rests in the hands of none other than Ben Nelson. He told Reuters yesterday he was undecided on the bill.
Now, this is pretty funny. Ben Nelson basically disappeared throughout the FinReg debate. You may remember back at the beginning, he refused to support cloture on the motion to proceed on the bill, because he wanted some goodie for the richest man in Nebraska, Warren Buffett. But I guess visions of “Cornhusker Kickback II” danced in Nelson’s head and he thought better of the whole thing, supported cloture on that vote and then… nothing. I watched way too much of the Senate debate on FinReg and I don’t remember Nelson speaking once. He simply wasn’t part of the debate. He would occasionally vote with Republicans on amendments, but he made almost no public statements. Now, all of a sudden, he can’t support the bill yet.
Why? Apparently he wants to personally select the head of the consumer protection bureau.
Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) explicitly told reporters this evening he’s not committed to voting for the legislation, citing a handful of measures, and concern about potential future directors of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
“You don’t know who’s going to be head of the consumer protection bureau,” Nelson said after a vote. “You can’t just send a rogue agency out on its own.”
The suggestion is that Nelson wants input behind the scenes on who the White House might nominate to run the new agency.
Again, I’ve never heard Nelson say a damn word about the consumer protection bureau at any point in the last year. He opposed the amendment from Shelby and McConnell to blow up the consumer protection bureau. Clearly some lobbyist put the bug in his ear that he needed to stop a radical leftist, like brainchild of the CFPA Elizabeth Warren, from getting the director’s seat. I had hoped that the punchline here would be that Warren was a native Nebraskan, but alas, she’s from the neighbor to the south, Oklahoma.
Despite Nelson’s hand-wringing, Harry Reid’s statement about the Republican supporters of the bill made it sound like he was moving forward on it this week:
“Nevada families are one step closer to being protected from the reckless behavior on Wall Street that cost America millions of jobs and pushed our economy to the brink of collapse. I commend Senators Snowe, Collins and Brown for standing up for middle-class families and supporting strong accountability for Wall Street banks. Despite the difficult political climate, these Republicans have joined Democrats to support these common-sense protections for consumers, investors and financial institutions that will help prevent another financial crisis.
“We will finish our work on this bill this week to ensure that these critical protections and accountability for Wall Street are in place as soon as possible.”
It would be beyond idiotic to give Nelson what he’s trying to extract in exchange for his cloture vote, when he won’t be needed by the weekend. That’s because Joe Manchin expects to announce a temporary successor to Robert Byrd no later than Sunday. If that successor supports the Dodd-Frank bill, and there’s little to suggest that he or she wouldn’t, Nelson’s plaintive wails become irrelevant. This is also true of the unemployment extension bill.
Why would it be more important to give up on the best possible pick to run the consumer protection bureau for the next few years than waiting a week to finish off a fait accompli bill? We probably won’t know what Nelson has extracted if he ends up voting for cloture, but we can guess. And it’s totally unnecessary.
UPDATE: Jane Kleeb at Bold Nebraska reports that Nelson will vote for the Dodd-Frank bill, and that it’ll pass as soon as Friday. I wonder what he got for it.