With finish line in sight, Senate readies for key vote to end debate on Wall Street rules

WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate Democrats prepared for the end game on a sweeping financial regulation bill Wednesday, sidestepping some fights and girding themselves for a handful of remaining difficult votes.

The key vote Wednesday would seek to end Senate debate on the financial overhaul and clear the way for final passage later in the week.

Republican leaders argued for a delay, saying the bill represented an expansion of federal government. But some in the party were expected to break ranks, including the Senate's newest Republican, Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts.

If Democrats band together, the vote would remove the last major Senate obstacle to the bill, the broadest rewrite of the rules governing Wall Street since the 1930s. Passage later in the week would represent a major victory for President Barack Obama, but the Senate bill would still have to be reconciled with a House version, which contains some significant differences.

Besides the vote on ending debate, the Senate on Wednesday also was scheduled to vote on a proposal that would allow states to impose their interest rate caps on financial institutions that issue credit cards. Currently, banks and credit card companies are only required to charge the interest rate permitted in the state where they are headquartered.

Banks, which have flocked to states with the most permissible rates, have vigorously fought the proposal, offered by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I. Under an agreement with Republicans, the measure will require 60 votes to pass.

At the same time, Democratic Sens. Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Carl Levin of Michigan succeeded in getting a vote on their proposal to ban commercial banks from trading in speculative investments with their own accounts. The measure, also opposed by financial institutions, would toughen an existing provision in the bill.

While those measures would increase regulations on banks, senators also were scheduled to vote on a measure that would let auto dealers avoid any regulations passed by a proposed consumer protection agency.

The Senate was expected to let stand a contentious restriction on the ability of banks to carry out their lucrative business in complex securities known as derivatives.

Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher decided not to propose a two-year delay on a requirement in the bill that banks spin off their derivatives business into subsidiaries.

Dodd had sought to break an impasse over how to regulate derivatives. But Sen. Blanche Lincoln, an Arkansas Democrat who has insisted on the spinoff measure, indicated she would oppose Dodd's effort. And the financial industry promptly signaled it would not support the effort.

Republican Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire also blasted Dodd's proposal Wednesday, likening it to a "Mad Hatter's tea party."

The maneuvering came as an exhausted, occasionally cranky Senate turned into the home stretch on a weekslong effort to pass the massive bill that would impose new controls on Wall Street.

The legislation would set up a mechanism to watch out for risks in the financial system, create a method to liquidate large failing firms and write new rules for complex securities blamed for helping precipitate the 2008 economic crisis. It also would create a new consumer protection agency, a key point for President Barack Obama.

Republicans this week have escalated their attacks on the bill, arguing the bill had grown worse and did not address root causes of the 2008 financial meltdown.

The Democratic majority, said Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, "uses this crisis as yet another opportunity to expand the cost and size and reach of government."