Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) passed away earlier this morning. As Washington mourns his death, Democrats will also have some tough political calculations to make. Despite his complicated legacy, Byrd became a relatively solid Democratic vote in the past decade, and his absence steepens the climb for some key pieces of legislation — including the financial regulatory reform bill up for finalization this week. The Senate plans to vote on the conference committee report as early as tomorrow. Like all bills, the motion technically needs a majority to pass the Senate, but to move to voting on it will require 60 votes. (The House is expected to pass the conference committee report with relative ease.)
The truth is, Byrd’s passing makes the math harder — particularly since Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), one of four Republicans who voted for the bill’s initial passage, has indicated he won’t vote for the conference committee version due to its inclusion of a tax on big banks. Here is his statement:
I was surprised and extremely disappointed to hear that $18 billion in new assessments and fees were added in the wee hours of the morning by the conference committee. While I’m still reviewing the bill’s details, these provisions were not in the Senate version of the bill which I previously supported. My fear is that these costs would be passed onto consumers in the form of higher bank, ATM and credit card fees and put a strain on lending at the worst possible time for our economy. I’ve said repeatedly that I cannot support any bill that raises taxes.
With Byrd not voting and Brown voting no, the bill is back at 59. The likeliest outcome is that Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) or Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.), who did not vote for the bill because they thought it too weak, might be brought over. Additionally, Democrats could scrap the bank tax to appease Brown or could wait until Byrd’s successor is in Washington to vote on the bill.
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