Jonathan Chait

McConnell Strikes Out, Financial Reform Advances

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This is a major development that both makes financial reform more likely and whatever passes likely to be stronger:

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) does not have enough solid commitments from GOP lawmakers to block consideration of a Democratic Wall Street reform bill.

McConnell has circulated a letter within the GOP conference that would have Republicans pledge to block a motion to proceed to a financial regulatory reform bill unless Democrats agree to reopen it for bipartisan negotiations.

But McConnell has fallen short of the 41 signatures he needs to send Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) a clear signal.

On health care, McConnell got his entire caucus to sign a letter like this. The result was that Democrats simply went around the Republicans. At least one Republican -- The Hill identified Susan Collins but was was unable to ascertain if there were others -- declined to endorse this strategy this time.

Republicans framed the letter as the only way to force the Democrats to negotiate. (“The only way we can get in the room is to show Democrats that they can’t ram a bill through the Senate,” one Senator tells the Hill.) But that isn't quite correct. Democrats still need at least one Republican Senator to break a filibuster. The Republicans will now simply be negotiating from a weaker position.

It's somewhat akin to collective bargaining versus individual bargaining. Mitch McConnell is trying to convince Republicans to form a union, so they can demand a higher price from the Democrats by forcing them to make an offer that all, or at least most, Republicans will accept. To do so, they all need to signal their willingness to stop any bill from passing (i.e., strike.) McConnell's effort has failed, because the most conciliatory Republicans are no longer willing to bind their position to arch-conservatives like McConnell. Now Democrats will just go shopping for the Republican offering the lowest price, in terms of weakening the legislation, to support the bill. Keep this in mind the next time Republicans insist that collective bargaining doesn't help workers.

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