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. [UPDATE: The floor chaos continued late into the night.]
When it looked as if Levin-Merkley had at least 50 votes, the threshold was moved up to 60. Now that it appears within striking distance of 60 votes, the new tactic is to deny it a vote altogether.
Negotiations around Levin-Merkley have been going on throughout the day, with Levin and Merkley working out details of the bill with holdouts. But without an opportunity for a vote on the floor, those successful negotiations add up to little.
"Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is yet again doing the bidding of Wall Street and is blocking the Merkley-Levin amendment that will ban high-risk trading inside the lending and depository institutions from coming up for a vote today," said a statement from Merkley's office after the blockade. "They won't even allow a vote with a 60 vote threshold. On a day two Democrats are missing from the chamber. Wall Street lobbyists, and consequently Senator McConnell and the Republicans, want to kill the Merkley-Levin amendment by attrition because they're afraid of losing a vote. If this isn't a sign of the Republicans having the backs of the big banks on Wall Street over the American people, I don't know what is."
UPDATE: Here's Sen. Bernie Sanders and MSNBC's Dylan Ratigan going over the current state of play of the bank reform bill and various key amendments: