Coverage of TBTF Amendment FAIL Fails

The Senate voted 61-33 yesterday against the so-called SAFE Banking Act, an amendment to the financial-reform bill that would have required the breakup of the megabanks.

The New York Times gives this its own story on B1. The Wall Street Journal gives it the very last sentence of a story on A2, sniffing:

The Senate on Thursday beat back another amendment with populist tinges, defeating 61-33 a provision that would have put strict caps on the size of the nation’s banks.

Needless to say, this is a bigger story than that. Thirty-three senators, including three Republicans, voted to bust up Bank of America, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley, and that only merits one sentence in The Wall Street Journal?

But even the Times doesn’t give us a good explanation of why the amendment failed:

Opponents of the Brown-Kaufman amendment, including Senator Christopher J. Dodd, Democrat of Connecticut and chairman of the banking committee, said that size alone was not a cause for concern and that the underlying financial regulatory bill already contained provisions to discourage the risky actions that led to the 2008 financial crisis, and to let regulators break up banks should they pose any danger.

“Size is not the appropriate restriction,” said Senator Mark Warner, Democrat of Virginia and a member of the banking committee, who helped draft the regulatory bill. “The real question should be the level of inter-connectedness and the risk-taking we saw in the crisis of 2008.” Mr. Warner added, “The Dodd bill does provide ability for these banks to be broken up.”

Why isn’t it an appropriate restriction or a “real question”? We’re not told. And isn’t “inter-connectedness” almost by definition going to be more of a problem at a bigger institution?

The case for the anti-TBTFers, by contrast, is so easy to understand that even the “populist” rabble can grasp it (there’s a reason they call it common sense). The Washington Post:

“When a few megabanks dominate our financial system, the downfall of any of them can mark the downfall of our entire economy,” Brown said on the Senate floor Tuesday night as the vote neared. “Too big to fail is too big.”

Republicans Tom Coburn, Richard Shelby, and John Ensign all voted for it, as did Majority Leader Harry Reid. So for analysis of the politics at play here, we’re forced to turn to Matt Taibbi, who in trademark style, writes:

In a wittily insulting footnote to this massacre, Alabaman Obfuscation King Richard Shelby, the guy who has been leading the transparently lobbyist-driven and shockingly (even by DC standards) cynical Republican filibusters of this bill, actually voted for the Brown/Kaufman amendment. I have no idea if this was Shelby’s idea of a joke or what, but somehow seeing this bloated old hack cast a quixotic Yea for this urgently necessary measure while 27 Democrats slithered back into the lobbyist camp to cast Nay votes was the most obnoxious part of this whole sordid affair.

I’m also wondering where this goes from here. Is a bank breakup DOA or is there the possibility for a weaker amendment to pass?

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.