WASHINGTON -- The death of Senator Robert C. Byrd could significantly complicate plans this week to approve a major overhaul of financial industry rules, which has been a major priority for President Obama.
Senate Democrats, who were already dealing with a razor-thin margin, will have to convince up to four Republicans to help them fend off a GOP filibuster when the plan comes up for a vote.
That wouldn’t be a problem if all four Republicans who supported the Senate financial reform bill last month would also agree to support the final compromise bill, which was agreed upon Friday by House and Senate negotiators.
But Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts was one of those four, and he is far from supportive of the new bill. Although he won several provisions in the negotiations, on Friday afternoon he said he was opposed to $19 billion in new bank taxes that were inserted at the last minute. “I’ve said repeatedly that I cannot support any bill that raises taxes,” he said.
The three other Republicans who voted for the Senate bill – Chuck Grassley of Iowa, and Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, both of Maine – have not yet said how they feel about the compromise legislation.
Byrd’s successor will be appointed by West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin, who is a Democrat, until an election is held (whether that election will be this fall or in 2012 is still under debate, subject to different interpretations of West Virginia election law). Manchin told the Associated Press this morning that there is no timetable for his appointment choice, making it unlikely someone new will be in place for votes this week.
For now, that means that Democrats control 58 votes in the Senate, two shy of the 60 they need to break a Republican filibuster.
On financial reform, two Democrats – Maria Cantwell of Washington, and Russ Feingold of Wisconsin – have consistently voted against the plan, saying it did not go far enough.
If Cantwell and Feingold continue to oppose the bill, Democrats would need four Republicans. One possibility would be to convince the two Democrats to vote to shut off debate – the procedural motion that requires 60 votes to prevent a filibuster – and then free them up to vote against its final passage. Even then, without a successor to Byrd, two Republican votes would be needed.
Byrd’s death could impact several other issues expected to come up. Senate Democrats have been trying for weeks to get enough votes to pass a bill that would extend unemployment, alter tax codes, and provide more Medicaid funding to states. Republicans have been united against the plan, saying it costs too much, and Democrats could bring the issue back up again this week.
Matt Viser can be reached at email@example.com.
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.