Politics

Why It Looks Like the Senate’s Debating the Defense Bill Again

Democrats anticipate GOP effort to reverse CFPB rule

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren expects the real floor business to be about overturning a consumer protection rule. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Reading the Senate schedule Tuesday might give off a serious sense of deja vu. But there is a reason for that. 

Officially, senators are getting set to debate proceeding to the Senate version of the annual defense authorization bill. But wait, one might ask: Wasn’t Armed Services Chairman John McCain just on the floor for days overseeing that bill? Yes.

Didn’t the Senate pass that bill last week? Yes, again.

But senators actually amended and passed the House’s defense policy bill, meaning the bill from the Senate Armed Services Committee was just sitting around, essentially as a bill without a purpose.

In one of the quirks of the Senate, having no business pending in the chamber could give senators an opportunity to try to move their own bills.

If Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell hadn’t made something, anything, the pending business — the defense bill, in this case — Democrats could have tried to hijack the floor while the Republican Conference sorts out what to do in light of three announced GOP “no” votes on the Graham-Cassidy health care overhaul proposal.

Instead, Democrats suspect the Kentucky Republican may be lining up a vote this week to overturn the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s forced arbitration rule.

The House has already acted to thwart the rule using the Congressional Review Act, and the resolution would only need a simple majority for passage in the Senate. The rule itself was designed to block companies from requiring customers to waive their rights to pursue litigation, and instead consent to mandatory arbitration.

Unlike much of what the Senate does, the resolution could pass in a single day because of the expedited procedures allowed for disapproving of agency rules.

Anticipating the Senate’s action, Sen. Elizabeth Warren defended the rule in a Monday evening floor speech, citing recent scandals involving the credit reporting agency Equifax and banking giant Wells Fargo.

“Make no mistake: Anyone who votes to reverse this rule is saying loud and clear that they side with banks over their constituents. Because bank lobbyists are the only people asking Congress to reverse the rule,” the Massachusetts Democrat said. “Every other organization — all the ones that represent actual human beings, not banks — want the rule to be saved.”

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