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Senate Dems Will Fight For Volcker Rule In Conference Negotiations: Merkley

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The Senate approved its Wall Street reform package on Thursday night without including a critical amendment, cosponsored by Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Carl Levin (D-Mich.), that would bar banks from trading for their own profit with taxpayer backed money.

But the fight isn't over. Democratic leaders will push to include Merkley-Levin during conference committee negotiations between the House and Senate, according to Merkley.

"Our Democratic leadership has said they would aggressively pursue the ideas that are in Merkley-Levin in conference," Merkley told HuffPost and local Oregon reporters after the amendment failed to get a vote on the Senate floor. "The process is not done."

During conference committee negotiations, the two chambers blend their respective bills, with each side generally fighting for their own provisions. The conference committee is often a shooting gallery for lobbyists, who are able to pick off unwanted provisions under the cover of the opaque deliberations.

These negotiations could be different, however, with key Democrats calling for the talks to be televised on C-SPAN.

The failure of the Senate to include the amendment is not an indication that it doesn't have broad support in the chamber. Quite the opposite: the lengths to which Wall Street lobbyists went to make sure it didn't get a vote is a strong indication they were worried it would pass. Merkley speculated that the amendment was ultimately denied a vote because "it would probably pass and Wall Street doesn't want it to pass." He said his whip count had the amendment at well over 50 votes with many others leaning in support of it.

Just before the amendment was brought up for a vote, Wall Street lobbyists persuaded the GOP to withdraw the amendment that was attached to it, thus snuffing it out.

The bill as written includes language with the same intent as Merkley-Levin, known as the Volcker Rule, but would allow regulators to override the ban on trading. Conference committee negotiators could tighten the language by citing the spirit of the underlying bill.

If it's not done now, said Merkley, proponents will likely have to wait until the next crisis to raise the issue.

"If we have another crisis in the next 24 months, people will be taking a second look at what we're passing now. And if everything goes smoothly for five years, we probably won't have any momentum until the next crisis occurs," he said.

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