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Cramdown Vote: Banks Bought Senators On The Cheap

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Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) introduced legislation in the Senate Thursday which would allow homeowners in bankruptcy to renegotiate -- or cramdown -- mortgages with banks. His corresponding amendment to the House-passed bankruptcy reform bill is scheduled to be voted on at 2:30. (Read the whole thing.)

[UPDATE: It fell 15 votes short of the 60 needed to end a filibuster. Here are the 'no' votes and the amount of money they've taken from the financial industry.]

The measure is widely expected to fail, as crucial Democratic senators, whose votes are needed to overcome a filibuster, have publicly declared their opposition.

Democratic Sens. Ben Nelson (Neb.), Mary Landrieu (La.) and Jon Tester have indicated they plan to vote against the amendment. Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), who supported the bill last time around, expressed reluctance to back it this time. The banking industry has lobbied relentlessly against the reform.

On Monday night, Durbin concluded that the banks "frankly own the place."

The place came (relatively) cheap.

The banking and real estate industry has funneled roughly $2,000,000 into Landrieu's campaign coffers over her 12-year career, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics. Bayh has taken in about $3.5 million. The financial sector is Nelson's biggest backer; he's taken $1.4 million from banks and real estate interests and another $1.2 million from insurance firms. Tester has fielded roughly half a million in his two years in office.

That's about nine million dollars -- far, far less than one percent of the amount taxpayers have spent to bail out the financial industry.

The opponents of the bill all say that industry influence is not the reason they'll vote against the measure. Rather, they claim genuine policy disagreements: concerns it could raise interest rates or increase defaults, for instance.

But Durbin's amendment is very narrowly tailored and would only allow mortgages signed before Jan. 1 to be modified -- meaning that interest rates on future loans should be unaffected.

We'll be watching the roll call and will post the rest of the no votes along with their take from the financial industry.

Durbin's office has also calculated, relying on data from the Center for Responsible Lending and Moody's, how many homes his bill would save and how much home equity it would preserve by preventing foreclosures, which damage entire neighborhoods.

Landrieu's Louisiana could see 12,651 homes and $500 million of equity preserved. Tester's Montana: 2,815 and $40 million. Nelson's Nebraska: 3,763 and $140 million. Bayh's Indiana: 27,960 homes and $590 million.

Across the United States, the measure is estimated to prevent 1.69 million foreclosures and preserve $300 billion in home equity.

Ryan Grim is the author of the forthcoming book This Is Your Country On Drugs: The Secret History of Getting High in America

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