Wall Street reform ready for final votes

After a grueling 20-hour session, lawmakers early Friday finished melding the House and Senate Wall Street reform bills, bringing Congress closer to passing the most sweeping changes to the financial system since the New Deal.

Finishing at 5:39 a.m. ET, 43 lawmakers agreed to send to their respective chambers a final bill that aims to strengthen consumer protection, shine a light on complex financial products, create a new process for taking down giant, failing financial firms, and make them stronger to prevent such failure.

“We are now on the brink of passing Wall Street reform,” said President Obama at the White House, shortly before leaving for Canada to attend the G-20 meeting. “We are poised to pass the toughest financial reforms since the ones we passed during the Great Depression.”

The conference committee votes were 20-11 among House negotiators and 7-5 among Senate negotiators, strictly along party lines. The room erupted into claps and hugs when it was all done, with staffers shaking hands and saying, “big bill.”

In one of their final votes, lawmakers renamed the legislation the Dodd-Frank Bill for the lawmakers who led the work on the reforms: Senate Banking Chairman Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., and House Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank, D-Mass. The chamber erupted in cheers on the motion’s approval.

“It’s the most extraordinary experience,” Frank said. “You hate to have the kind of pain that so many people went through in this economic crisis, but it just doubled our resolve to get it done.”

Frank and Dodd insisted on pushing forward and wrapping up the negotiations, to ready the bill for final passage by each chamber before Congress adjourns for the Independence Day recess.

Shortly after the vote, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner put out a statement supporting the efforts and calling for Congress to move ahead. “We urge Congress to carry the momentum forward and move swiftly towards final passage,” he said.

The move was a big win for the White House, giving Obama fodder as he encourages other nations to embrace financial reforms at the G-20 meeting in Toronto on Saturday.

“This will strengthen the hand of the president going to Toronto to make that case,” Dodd said. “We can make the case if not to embrace exactly what we’ve done, to embrace the principles we’ve enshrined in this bill.”

Despite promises of an open negotiating process, many of the toughest deals were reached in private conversations among Democrats, as well as White House and Treasury officials, outside the Senate meeting room session that was being broadcast on C-SPAN.

Lawmakers, who began negotiations Thursday at 9:30 a.m. ET, grew increasingly short-tempered and weary. Sometimes, the air conditioning shut off, and suit jackets and sweaters came off and sweat ran down faces.

The lawmakers have been meeting for two weeks reconciling the bills, which were largely similar. However, they left most of the toughest decisions to the last day.

Most of Thursday, negotiations were slow going, as Democrats disagreed among themselves on measures that aimed to stop the kinds of problems that lead to the massive taxpayer bailout of American International Group.

Early Friday, lawmakers agreed to a weakened version of a provision originally authored by Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., to force large banks to spin off divisions that trade derivatives contracts into affiliates.

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