Tom Harkin was stifled in his effort Tuesday evening to bring a measure to the Senate floor that would cap ATM fees at 50 cents. Harkin (D-Iowa) first introduced his amendment on May 4 and has yet to get a vote. With the close of debate on Wall Street reform rapidly approaching, Harkin went straight to the floor to ask the chamber's consent to vote, conceding that he would be satisfied with a mere five minutes of debate.
Banks, both small and large, oppose the amendment and argue that capping fees will reduce the number of privately available ATMs at convenience stores and elsewhere as well as the number of bank-owned cash machines.
Harkin says that an average ATM transaction costs 37 cents.
Harkin's amendment is just one of several consumer friendly measures that has support but is being cut off by Republican objections and the coming end of the floor debate. "I don't think it's a good idea to cut off good consumer amendments because of cloture," said Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.).
Cantwell, along with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), is sponsoring an amendment that would reinstate Glass-Steagall, which forces banks to split off investment banking and commercial banking. Cantwell said that the managers of the bill on the floor are telling her that her amendment is not germane and so can't be considered after cloture.
Meanwhile, Senate Republicans blocked Democrats from voting on three amendments Tuesday that are strongly opposed by Wall Street. The combination of the GOP obstruction and Democratic leadership urgency to finish the bill threatens to cut off key consumer protection amendments.
Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, the top-ranking Republican on the Banking Committee, rose to object to a vote on one of the most talked-about amendments, cosponsored by Sens. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.). Levin-Merkley would ban commercial banks from trading for their own benefit with taxpayer-backed money.
Shelby also objected to an amendment from Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) that would rein in predatory practices of payday lenders and one from Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) that would have banned naked credit default swaps, which were at the heart of the financial crisis. Dorgan's amendment was expected to fail, but Levin-Merkley had been surging in recent days.
Merkley took the Senate floor after Harkin and once again called his amendment up for a vote, but Shelby objected again on behalf of coleagues. Merkley demanded to know who was objecting. "Myself, and a lot of others around here," he said, waving his hand at the GOP side of the aisle.
Merkley asked him to name names. Shelby replied that he was objecting on behalf of himself. (Only one Senator is needed to object.)
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) has an amendment that would allow states to cap interest rates on credit cards. He said Tuesday that he was working with Dodd to get a vote and that it has a chance to be ruled germane.
But the only amendment that is certain to be ruled germane, said a Democratic leadership aide, is one that makes it weaker. From Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), the measure would exempt auto dealers from the purview of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that the bill would create.
The only way for an amendment to come to the floor without unanimous consent, which Republicans can object to, is to file cloture to defeat a filibuster. That requires 60 votes but, more importantly, takes several days of floor time. And the Senate has a war it needs to fund.
Levin took the floor after Merkley and vowed to bring the amendment up again on Wednesday. "Wall Street's got a long arm swarming around this place," he said.
Democrats argued with themselves and with the GOP late into the night Tuesday in a session unruly and disorganized even by Senate standards.
It tested Harkin's nerves and led to the following exchange with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). Harkin takes the aggressive position that if he can't get a vote on his ATM amendment, he doesn't want one on his other amendment, either, dealing with annuities.
Harkin: I want to be heard on this amendment. So we were told to stay here tonight so we could offer amendments. I've had an amendment pending since this bill was brought to the floor. I've not been able to bring it up. I've not been able to bring it up. We were told we could stay here tonight and offer amendments. So in good faith, I stayed here tonight to offer my amendment. Now I'm told we can't offer amendments because there is a pending amendment and you can't set it aside. What kind of games are being played around here? I've had this amendment pending ever since the beginning. And I have not been allowed to bring it up. And of course with cloture tomorrow, it would fall. So what does this mean that we should stay around here and offer amendments tonight when there's a pending amendment you can't set aside? Well, Mr. President, if that's the game you're going to play, I'm going to put in a quorum call and we won't call it off.
Reid: Will the Senator yield -- Mr. President? Would my friend yield without his losing the floor for a question?
Harkin: Without losing my right to the floor.
Reid: If the conversations we just completed over here--trying to work something out for the rest of the evening...it is my understanding that the minority, the Republicans, agreed to allow your amendment dealing with annuities to come up, okay? In the conversation we had over here just a few minutes ago, The Republicans and Senator Dodd and his staff thought it would be appropriate to bring up your amendment dealing with annuities. That was part of the general agreement that we had worked out over here.
Harkin: Well, I had this amendment. I have my ATM amendment and then there was an annuities amendment.
Reid: The annuities amendment is what the conversation was.
Harkin: This is the ATM amendment I had filed since the beginning, I would say to my leader, that I had filed since this bill was brought on the floor.
Reid: What about the annuity amendment?
Harkin: I have that amendment, too. I didn't know there was a limit. I have two amendments. I have an annuity amendments and I have the ATM amendment.
Reid: I guess my questions through the chair to my friend from Iowa is, rather than go into quorum call tonight, you could always do that some other time. I think it would be more appropriate if your amendment dealing with annuities -- there are other amendments that have been agreed to, we could see if we could dispose of those.
Harkin: No, I will not be able to. Because there will ago cloture vote tomorrow and I will have been precluded for three weeks from offering my amendment. And, you know, that's not quite fair ball around here.
Reid: But at least - but, I would say --
Harkin: I had only asked for -- I said I'd do my amendment in five minutes. I don't need to take much time with my amendment.
Reid: But I say again through the chair to my friend, it seems that it would be better that you would have the opportunity at least to get the annuity amendment, which a number of us believe is a very important amendment, and I would feel -- I think it would be better that we were able to at least get rid of that amendment in a positive way, because I think there's a very important amendment. If I had to choose between your ATM amendment or the -- the amendment dealing with annuities, it would be hard for me to make a choice which one is the more important amendment. So it is not a question of not having two amendments. It is a question of, couldn't we atleast dispose of one of them, which is an important amendment? Otherwise the way this train is going, we may never get to the annuity amendment.
Harkin: Well, I say to my -- Mr. President, I say to my friend, the leader, that we seem to have an impasse here. I have an annuities amendment. I don't know what's going to happen to that. I don't know if they're going to bring it up or not bring it up. If they're going to vote on it or not vote on it. I have an ATM amendment that I've tried to bring up. I heard earlier my friend from Connecticut -- he is my friend, I respect him highly, he knows that -- but he said, stay around here and offer amendments. Well, I just offered an amendment and I can't offer an amendment because they won't set aside the pending amendment.
Reid: I am not going to belabor the point, Mr. President, other than to say to my friend, there's been a tentative agreement between the two managers of the bill, including the -- offering your amendment dealing with annuities. That's an important amendment of - I support it a lot. I think the other amendment is good, too, but I -- we don't have an agreement on both of them. We do on one of them. It doesn't seem --
Harkin: Well, Mr. President, I say then, I think until we find something out and get something worked out, I suggest the absence of a quorum.