Financial Reform’s Day of Reckoning Might Not Be

The politics of health care were easy. You were either for it or against it, and no one questioned the lines of disagreement. Financial reform is harder, and as the vote is called later today, no one knows exactly how things will shake out. This morning on Good Morning America, Sen. Richard Shelby, the ranking member on the Senate Banking Committee, said a deal is unlikely. If that happens, it could lead to an actual filibuster (although the Republicans would actually have to do it, and not just make threats). But despite Republican Leader Mitch McConnell’s feverish efforts to hold his bloc of 41 together, Shelby also said that within several hours, leaders would “have the votes,” signaling the package would move ahead.

The good folks at Talking Points Memo have devised five distinct scenarios we could see before the day is out. Perhaps the Republicans will blink first and give the green light for a vote (which will almost certainly pass). Or maybe the Dems will blink and stall voting for another few days to return to the bargaining table to make the package bipartisan. It comes down to the resiliency of party leaders Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell, both of whom have immense face to save.

Why? Because as usual, Washington gets lost in the details while most of the country doesn’t even understand the question. Indeed, the intricacies of banking regulations have inspired many naps outside of the Beltway and the alleys of Wall Street. But there is general agreement on Wall Street as a villain. In a Gallup poll last week, when people were asked if the federal government should regulate large financial institutions, 46 percent were in favor while 43 percent opposed. But when “large financial institutions" was replaced with “Wall Street banks,” the spread jumped to 50 to 36.

Most lawmakers agree that Wall Street needs to be reigned in after its snafu in 2007 and 2008. Just count how many times both parties have decried “bailouts” and the memo crafted by consultant Frank Luntz advising Republicans to use the dirty word to play to the people who hate bailouts—which would be, well, most people. The disagreements are much less substantive than we saw with, say, health care or immigration. But this week’s jockeying may be less about policy than politics. The battle to end up on the side of public opinion, and not a villain doing the bidding of the big banks, in a familiar way resembles Wall Street—a high-risk pursuit with even high reward.