Democrats will bring their financial reform bill to the Senate floor this week, hoping to build the case that the securities fraud charges brought against investment giant Goldman Sachs validate their argument for sweeping new regulations for Wall Street.
To build momentum around the bill, Obama will take the message of the importance of financial reform around the country, much as he did for health care. The president on Thursday will deliver remarks in New York City, where he will call for "swift Senate action."
"The president will also remind Americans what is at stake if we do not move forward with changing the rules of the road as a part of a strong Wall Street reform package," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said in a statement today.
As the White House often points out, when Obama took office in January 2009, he inherited the worst economic crisis in generations, but now a once-dire situation has turned into a potential political advantage for Democrats. From job creation to lower bailout costs to economic growth, Democrats in the White House and on Capitol Hill believe they have all the momentum as the Wall Street reform debate takes center stage in Washington.
"The fact is that Democrats are on the side of Main Street, of trying to make sure that this doesn't happen again," Regan LaChappelle, spokeswoman for Senate majority leader Harry Reid, told ABC News. "I think this is something that the American people want, that Wall Street is regulated, and that we don't end up in the same situation we found ourselves in. ... I think there is momentum to do this, and we plan on getting this done for the American people."
Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, said today the case against Goldman Sachs will hasten the passage of the financial reform bill in the Senate, and that some of the GOP senators are likely to side with Democrats in the end.
"It reinforces the need for much of what we were doing," Frank said in a CNBC interview.
But so far, all 41 Senate Republicans are unanimous in their opposition. They signed a letter saying the financial reform bill, as it is currently written, needs to be changed before they can support it.
Democrats will need at least one Republican vote to avoid a filibuster. Chairman of the Senate banking committee Chris Dodd today argued that the bill was crafted on a bipartisan basis and that it holds Wall Street accountable, as Republicans had said they wanted.
"This comes right down to this basic question: Whose side are you on?" said Dodd, D-Conn., pointing out that big banks oppose the financial reform bill he has proposed. "If we do nothing, it's the status quo. We're vulnerable once again."
The bill creates a new consumer protection agency with the power to stop abusive practices by the financial industry, including sudden credit card interest rate hikes, hidden bank fees and predatory loans.
The bill also regulates high-risk speculation on derivatives, which some say helped to cause the financial collapse in the first place.