Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) , left, talks with...

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) , left, talks with reporters while walking to the Senate Chamber on April 28, 2010. Reid said of an agreement in the Senate to begin debate on a Democratic proposal to restructure oversight of financial firms, "Obstruction has wasted enough of the American people’s time and now it’s time to get to work.” Credit: AFP / Getty Images

The U.S. Senate agreed Wednesday to begin debate on a Democratic proposal for the biggest restructuring of financial-market oversight since the 1930s as Republicans abandoned their effort to stall the bill's progress.

Senators agreed by unanimous consent to move forward with the legislation, which is based on a plan by President Barack Obama. On three previous ballots this week, the chamber's 41 Republicans united to block consideration.

"Senate Republicans have finally agreed to let us begin this debate," Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said in a statement before lawmakers met. "Obstruction has wasted enough of the American people's time and now it's time to get to work."

The move came a day after Goldman Sachs Group Inc. Chief Executive Lloyd Blankfein and other company executives underwent more than 10 hours of questioning by a congressional panel looking at Wall Street's role in the financial crisis.

The legislation is aimed at strengthening regulations on Wall Street in response to the worst financial meltdown since the Great Depression, which led to a $700-billion aid package for banks such as Citigroup Inc. and Bank of America Corp.

Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd, a Connecticut Democrat who wrote the bill, and Richard Shelby of Alabama, the banking panel's top Republican, negotiated for months toward a bipartisan agreement.

Shelby declared yesterday that the talks had reached an impasse, and Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky signaled a willingness to let the legislation come to the floor.

The bill would set up a new regulator to guard consumers against abuse and deception in such instruments as mortgages, credit cards or loans. It would create a mechanism to dismantle firms whose failure threatens the financial system, and strengthen oversight of derivatives and hedge funds.

By holding votes to begin debate every day this week, Democrats pressured Republicans by portraying them as supporting Wall Street over the millions of Americans who lost jobs in the aftermath of the economic crisis.

Republicans argued that the legislation would guarantee future government bailouts of big banks and create new bureaucracies. They said they were holding firm to gain leverage to amend the bill and protect taxpayers.

Polls show public support for tougher regulations on Wall Street. About two-thirds of Americans back tighter rules for banks and other financial institutions, according to an April 22-25 Washington Post/ABC News poll.

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