WASHINGTON – A sweeping crackdown on banking and high-finance broke through a Senate Republican blockade Thursday, setting the stage for Congress to send the massive regulation overhaul to President Barack Obama.
The vote to end debate was 60-38, the minimum needed to overcome a filibuster. But that ensured that the bill has the votes for final passage, which could come later Thursday.
At a thud-inducing 2,300 pages, the legislation is designed to rein in big banks and protect consumers, with the aim of averting a repeat of the 2008 financial crisis. Its ultimate impact, however, will depend on the government regulators assigned to implement it.
The legislation is the result of a year's worth of partisan struggles and delicate cross-party courtships that at times promised more votes but in the end delivered barely enough.
Only three Senate Republicans voted with 55 Democrats and two independents to end debate on the bill Thursday.
Named after Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd and House financial Services Committee chairman Barney Frank, the legislation ends a trend to ease regulations and instead clamps down on the financial industry in ways unseen since the Great Depression.
"Wall Street rigged the game," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said. "They put our money on the table. When they won, they won big. The jackpots they took home were in the billions. But when they lost and, boy did they lose big, they came crying to the taxpayers for help."
Republicans cast the bill as vast government overreach, and were betting that the voters' antipathy toward big government and their worries over jobs would trump their anger at Wall Street.
"We're going to be driving jobs and business overseas with this massive piece of legislation," said Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga.
And Sen. Richard Shelby, R-ala., who worked with Dodd on certain aspects of the bill, denounced it as a "legislative monster" and took special aim at the bill's creation of a new consumer financial protection bureau
"While a consumer protection agency may sound like a good idea," Shelby said, "the way it is constructed in this bill will slow economic growth and kill jobs by imposing massive new regulatory burdens on businesses."
For a president hungry for good news, passage Thursday would be a welcome achievement. The legislation has been an Obama priority, and in its final form it hews closely to the plan his administration unveiled a year ago.
But its political benefits in a heated midterm election year stand to be overshadowed by lingering high unemployment.
Speaking on the Senate floor Thursday, Dodd, D-Conn., conceded that the bill's impact will not be evident immediately.
"It is not a perfect bill, I will be the first to admit that," he said. "It will take the next economic crisis, as certainly it will come, to determine whether or not the provisions of this bill will actually provide this generation or the next generation of regulators with the tools necessary to minimize the effects of that crisis."
Industry lobbyists fought feverishly against a number of restrictions in the bill, ultimately winning some concessions. In the end, the final bill was tougher than they wanted but not as restrictive as they feared.
Steve Bartlett, the president of the Financial Services Roundtable, a banking group, struck a conciliatory tone in a speech he was scheduled to deliver later Thursday.
"Core elements of the bill will contribute to a stronger, more secure financial system," he says in a text of the speech released in advance. "Some items in the legislation we did not support and we expressed our views accordingly. Nevertheless, we are committed to making those items work as well as possible."
The 2,300-page legislation, among other things:
— Gives the government new powers to break up teetering companies which, if allowed to fail, would threaten the economy.
— Creates a new agency to protect consumers in their financial transactions.
— Shines a light into shadowy financial markets that have escaped the oversight of regulators.