WHY ARE THEY AFRAID OF THE DEBATE?…. In about two hours, the Senate Democratic leadership will try to bring a bill to the floor on Wall Street reform. The goal, of course, is to start the debate. If the threats are accurate, every Republican in the chamber will vote this afternoon to block the debate from getting underway, and since there will “only” be 59 votes out 100 to get the process started, the GOP obstructionism will have its desired effect.

Efforts to find a bipartisan compromise continue — by all accounts, there is broad agreement on most of the key elements of the proposal — but in the meantime, Republicans now have a new strategy in mind.

Senate Republicans are working to finalize their own version of legislation to tighten regulation of the nation’s financial system, and aides said their version could be put forward as a rival to the Democrats’ proposal if a bipartisan deal is not reached before an important procedural vote on Monday afternoon.

Republicans, including Senator Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, have said they would use the procedural vote to block the start of debate on the Democrats’ bill unless the Democrats agree to make substantial changes in it. But in a political climate of public impatience and anger at Wall Street, it was not clear how long the Republicans could hold ranks in delaying the bill.

The development of a Republican alternative suggests that party leaders are determined to draw contrasts between their preferred approach to policing Wall Street and that of the Democrats.

Let’s pause to acknowledge an often overlooked detail. The Senate has a mechanism — it’s called a floor debate — which is actually pretty useful in a situation like this. Senators can present their ideas to their colleagues, in an entirely open and transparent process. Amendments can be proposed, considered, and voted on. Language can be altered. Provisions can be improved or eliminated. It’s all part of how the process was designed to work.

Once the debate is complete, senators can vote for or against the bill, and support or oppose a filibuster.

But Republicans have a different approach in mind — they don’t want to even start the debate. Despite all the talk of the last year about transparency, GOP officials insist that all work on Wall Street reform occur behind closed doors, and the ideas that could be debated on the floor are instead hashed out in secret, in between Republican fundraisers with representatives of the very institutions affected by the legislation.

This is ridiculous. As Matt Yglesias explained this afternoon, “On financial regulation, over the months I’ve heard a number of Republican Senators say reasonablish things about the bill, or about problems with the bill. But it’s time to put up or shut up. If you’re concerned the bill doesn’t address something, then write an amendment to address it. If you think the bill is too tough in some respect, then write an amendment to weaken it. There’s no good reason to insist that everything be done in a secret Shelby-Dodd negotiating process.”

Instead of Republicans crafting their own version of the same bill, why don’t they just bring those ideas to the floor as part of the debate? Why are they so afraid of having a public discussion about bringing some safeguards and accountability to a financial industry that nearly destroyed the global economic system?

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.