Wall Street reform bill clears Congress, heads to the White House

WALL STREET REFORM BILL CLEARS CONGRESS, HEADS TO THE WHITE HOUSE…. It wasn’t easy, and it took a little longer than expected, but one of the pillars of the Democratic agenda — a sweeping Wall Street reform bill — cleared Congress today, and is poised to become law.

The Senate voted, 60 to 39, to approve an overhaul of the financial regulatory system on Thursday, heralding the end of more than a generation in which the prevailing posture of Washington toward the financial industry was largely one of hands-off admiration.

“We all know Wall Street isn’t going to reform itself,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said today. “Those who vote ‘no’ are standing with the same bankers who gambled with our homes and economic security in the first place.”

The final roll found three Republicans — Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Olympia Snowe (Maine) and Scott Brown (Mass.) — joining the entire Democratic caucus, except Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), in supporting the bill. It now heads to the White House for President Obama’s signature.

There’s some confusion, apparently, as to exactly when that will happen. The Hill reports that the president may sign the legislation into law today, while the New York Times reports it’s likely to be next week. Given the fact that Obama is in Michigan today, I’d be surprised if the signing ceremony were ready for this afternoon.

Either way, the reform package, formally called the “Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act,” represents the biggest regulatory change for the financial industry since the Great Depression. Kevin Drum had a good item recently, highlighting several of its key provisions. He concluded, “Given the alternatives, anyone who cares about financial reform should support this bill.”

In the larger context, Wall Street reform also gets added to the list of breakthrough accomplishments of the last 18 months, a list that now includes health care reform, an economy-saving Recovery Act, a long-sought overhaul of the nation’s student-loan system, the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, new regulation of the credit card industry, new regulation of the tobacco industry, a national service bill, expanded stem-cell research, and the most sweeping land-protection act in 15 years, among other things.

As Rachel Maddow recently observed, “The last time any president did this much in office, booze was illegal. If you believe in policy, if you believe in government that addresses problems, cheers to that.”

Of course, the president’s leadership made progress on this agenda possible, but kudos also obviously have to go to the House and Senate leadership, especially on Wall Street reform, which looked to be in deep trouble more than once. Time will tell what happens in the midterms, but Americans haven’t seen a Congress as successful as 111th in at least a generation.