Democrats probably didn’t expect to find themselves in this position: On the cusp of moving a big Wall Street reform bill to the Senate floor, with Republicans, as if immune from political pressure, banding together to block them. But they knew it could happen. Some even would have preferred this, relishing the optics of allowing the GOP to side with big, unpopular financial institutions.
So surely Democrats and their allies in key pressure groups have rehearsed a bold, unified response, in the event that the GOP follows through on their threat to block debate. Ads are in the can, talking points are drafted, and everyone’s been prepped to argue before the world that the Republicans have allied themselves with the firms that wrecked the economy. Right?The answer to the question is: yes and no. Democrats and outside groups have some contingency plans in place, if the GOP carries out a filibuster. But those efforts aren’t being tightly coordinated, and with a key test vote coming as early as Monday, there’s precious little time left for Dems and their allies to get their ducks in a row. Given how politically explosive a GOP filibuster could be, the ad hoc nature of the Democrats’ plans that suggests they won’t take as full advantage of it as perhaps they could.
“When Republicans pulled their obstructionist tricks during healthcare, there was an immediate response from every pro-reform group,” says a concerned source working in messaging at one of the largest Dem-aligned financial reform pressure groups in the country. “Now that the GOP is using the same stalling and backroom meetings for Wall Street, that response just doesn’t exist.”
“If similar things had happened in healthcare that have happened during past week, we would have all blown the lid off of it,” the source added.
That’s not to say that a successful GOP filibuster will be met with awkward silence from the Democrats. The Democratic party and the White House, as well as some major outside groups say they’re nimble enough to change their message from a drum beat for reform, to a direct assault on Republicans, particularly those on the fence who say they want to pass a bill. That includes targeted events, phone calls, potentially even TV ads.
“We’ll be doing events targeting them, phone calls, letters,” says AFL-CIO spokesman Eddie Vale. “The full range of things that we’ve got in our toolkit will switch from pushing for the bill to pushing for them to stop filibustering it.”
The groups AARP and Americans United for Change both say they’ll cross that bridge when they get to it.
“We hope it doesn’t get to that point,” says Lauren Wiener, spokesperson for AUC. “I think it’s clear that they’ve aligned themselves with the big banks.”
“We’ve been trying to focus [on a filibuster] not being the case,” says Mary Liz Burns of the AARP.
One of the problems the Democrats face is that none of the Republican incumbents in the Senate is particularly vulnerable to a challenge from the left. Perhaps for that reason, the DSCC will have their eyes on Republican challengers. At the top of their list will be Jane Norton, hopeful to unseat Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Rob Portman, who’s running against Democrats Lee Fisher and Jennifer Brunner to fill the seat Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH) will be vacating at the end of the year.
The White House and Senate Democrats have somewhat different talking points, with the White House more focused on the need for swift action, two years after the financial collapse nearly brought down the U.S. economy, and Senate Democrats doing the yeoman’s work of drawing a distinction between themselves, and the pro-Wall Street, status quo oriented GOP.
That’s not nothing. And maybe the GOP’s filibuster will fizzle. If it doesn’t, Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT), the Democrats’ top financial reform negotiator, says they’ll continue negotiating and bring the bill up for more cloture votes, putting Republicans on the record again and again. But thus far, the response isn’t shaping up to be the full frontal assault you might have been expecting.
Additional reporting by Christina Bellantoni.