The most sweeping financial reform measure in the United States since the 1930s is one big step closer to becoming law. The Senate passed its version of the measure Thursday night by a vote of 59 to 39.
This is the bill that is supposed to address the excesses in the financial services industry that led the United States into a major economic recession.
Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd says it is crucial. The Connecticut Democrat says the American public needs to have its confidence in the financial sector restored. "If they don't trust and have faith that these institutions are going to protect them to the maximum extent possible, then our economy is in deeper trouble than any particular statistic I can cite," he said.
Banking committee member Mark Warner - a Virginia Democrat - says the reform bill lays down a set of rules of the road for the financial services industry for the 21st century. He says it sets an example for the rest of the world. "It will be the United States again that will be actually the first nation to lay out these new rules of the road. And we see this kind of turmoil in Europe because Europe hasn't acted, Asia hasn't acted," he said.
The bill makes it easier to detect risks in the financial system, and sets up a new consumer protection agency. It also places tough new rules on certain types of complex financial transactions.
Republicans contend the bill was written hastily and the legislation could do more harm than good.
Alabama's Richard Shelby - the top Republican on the banking panel - urged his colleagues to vote no. "In the end, we will be judged by whether we have created a more stable, durable and competitive financial system," he said.
The bill proceeded to a final vote after Democrats succeeded in pulling together enough support to block any further parliamentary delays by the opposition.
President Barack Obama cheered them on from the White House. He accused the financial services industry of waging an all-out war to kill the reform measure. "Over the last year, the financial industry has repeatedly tried to end this reform with hordes of lobbyists and millions of dollars in ads. And when they couldn't kill it, they tried to water it down with special interest loopholes and carve-outs aimed at undermining real change," he said.
The bill must now be reconciled with a version passed earlier by the House of Representatives. The president predicted the industry will keep on fighting, but he said he is sure the measure will prevail. "Our goal is not to punish the banks, but to protect the larger economy and the American people from the kind of upheavals that we've seen in the past few years," he said.
Negotiators for the House and Senate are expected to begin work on merging the two versions of the bill soon. The goal is to get a final piece of legislation to the president for his signature before the July 4th Independence Day holiday.