Financial Reform Doesn't Get Cloture: What That Means

The final vote tally this afternoon was 57 to 41, repudiation not of the Democrats' financial-reform package but of the period of debate that would precede an actual vote. This means that debate can extend endlessly, or until a collection of 60 members agree to cut it off. In reality, however, it just means that party leaders will return to negotiations to iron out several components of the legislation to craft it as bipartisan.

The most interesting part of today's vote is that it, in all actuality, constitutes a victory for both parties. Republicans, with only a slight filibuster-strong minority, successfully cut off Democrats on their top agenda item, which will play well in the party's conservative base and among allies on Wall Street, who have increased donations to Republican causes and candidates over the past month. But it also plays well with Democrats. As we reported earlier, a plurality of the country is on board for some type of financial reform. Democrats are almost visibly salivating over the opportunity to paint their opponents as friends of the big banks—and against the little guy.

Two Democratic aides tell NEWSWEEK that they're hoping that the longer it takes, the more voters will identify Republicans as the party stalling the effort to reel in the large financial institutions. But for now, the Republicans may have a slight upper hand, having captured the votes of Democrat Ben Nelson and, thus letting them claim bipartisan opposition to the bill, a buzz term to be oft-repeated over the next 24 hours.

So what comes next? Pop your popcorn. More than 50 Democrats are poised to pass the bill, but as long as 41 dissenters stand in the way, they won't be able. So, several Capitol Hill sources say, Democrats will actually make Republicans physically stand in the way, on the floor of the Senate, reading cookbooks and talking about nothing in particular for hours and hours, even days. Well, actually, no. It'll likely consist of repeated in-session calls all night long, forcing the minority to be present. It is, perhaps, the best that anyone craving Senate dramatics can hope for. But still, in grand Senate tradition, we'll be the first to declare: get out the cots.

Learn more about the history of Senate filibusters, including the wackiest and longest, in NEWSWEEK's filibuster photo gallery.