The U.S. Senate gave final legislative approval Thursday to a major overhaul of the rules governing the nation's financial system. The measure is the biggest overhaul of U.S. financial regulation rules since the Great Depression, and analysts say its passage is a major legislative victory for President Barack Obama and his Democratic Party.
Senate Democrats managed to garner the 60 votes they needed to thwart procedural roadblocks by opposition Republicans and pave the way for final passage of financial sector reform legislation. They did it with the help of three moderate Republicans who voted with them, Scott Brown of Massachusetts, and Olympia Snowe, and Susan Collins of Maine.
Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York announced the results of the procedural vote.
"On this vote, the 'yeas' are 60 and the 'nays' are 38," she said. "Three-fifths of the senators duly chosen and sworn have voted in the affirmative; the motion is agreed to."
Democrats only needed a simple 51-vote majority to pass the bill. The House of Representatives has already passed the financial reform bill, also with the help of three Republican votes. With the Senate approval, the bill now goes to President Obama, who is expected to sign it into law within the next few days.
Reforming the U.S. financial sector has been Mr. Obama's top legislative priority after Democrats managed to pass sweeping health care reform legislation earlier this year. With a little more than three months to go until midterm congressional and gubernatorial elections, Democrats will likely hail the legislative victories as evidence that they are tackling the economic problems that average Americans face.
Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd, a Democrat and one of two chief authors of the Wall Street reform bill, says he regrets that this new legislation cannot undo the suffering Americans went through when the global economic recession hit two years ago.
"I regret it can't give you your job back, restore that foreclosed home, put retirement money back in your account," he said. "What I can do is to see to it that we never, ever again have to go through what this nation has been through. And that is what this effort has been about over the last several years, to try and create that structure, that architecture.
The legislation will give the federal government new powers to break up struggling large companies whose failures might threaten the national economy. It also would create a new agency to protect consumers in their financial transactions.
Most Republicans oppose the bill, saying the new regulations on banks will stifle lending and job creation, and that they are another example of Democrats' giving the government too much power.
Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell says most Americans oppose the legislation.
"As it turns out, the American people don't seem to like this government-driven solution to the financial crisis any more than they like the Democrats' government-driven solution to the nation's health care crisis," he said. "They don't think this bill will solve the problems in the financial sector any more than they think the health care bill will lead to lower costs or better care."
Recent public opinion surveys show voter confidence in President Obama's economic leadership is declining, and that it is unclear whether voters will give Democrats credit at the polls in November for passing sweeping and complex domestic changes.