- The Washington Times - Monday, March 17, 2003

The House this week is considering and is likely to pass a bill to overhaul the nation's bankruptcy law, but the abortion-related provision that doomed the measure last year still could be an issue in the Senate.
The bankruptcy bill has made the long journey through Congress multiple times but has never become law. It is designed to curb bankruptcy abuse by forcing more debtors to repay debts if they are able.
At issue is language attached to the Senate version of the bill last year by Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, that would prevent abortion protesters who have been fined from having those penalties erased in bankruptcy.
The House bill to be considered this week doesn't contain the Schumer language, which is opposed by House pro-life conservatives. And conservative groups are working hard to ensure that the Senate bill also not include the language.
Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, will soon introduce the Senate bankruptcy bill, but Grassley spokeswoman Beth Pellett said, "At this point in time, Senator Grassley does not intend to include the abortion language."
Mr. Schumer has not said what his strategy will be this year, and a call to his office was not immediately returned.
A Senate Republican aide said there is talk of bringing the bankruptcy bill straight to the Senate floor and skipping the Judiciary Committee, to expedite the process. The aide also said one possibility is that the House will pass its bankruptcy bill and the Senate will consider that bill.
Last year, the bankruptcy legislation passed both chambers, but emerged from House-Senate conference containing the abortion-protester language. So House conservatives blocked the bankruptcy conference report from being considered on the House floor. House leaders were forced to strip the protester language, and the conference report then passed the chamber, 244-116 but was dead in the Senate.
Lobbyists and interested parties are focusing on the Senate this year.
"When you look at the vote counts in House it passed by a pretty wide margin and we're hoping to see the same," said Catherine Pulley, a spokeswoman with the American Bankers Association, which supports the bill. "Obviously, we don't want to see a non-germane amendment attached to the bill when it goes to the Senate."
Michael Schwartz, vice president for government relations at Concerned Women for America, is focusing on ensuring that senators know "a vote for the Schumer language is a vote to kill the bankruptcy bill." He said that after what happened last year, Senate Republicans should know that they cannot support the Schumer language and still contend that they support the underlying bankruptcy bill, because it is clear the language kills the bill. He called the protester language "irrelevant," "unjust" and "bad law."
Opponents of the bankruptcy bill say it is too harsh and would punish working families who legitimately need bankruptcy because of high medical bills or other misfortunes.
Bill proponents disagree. In a recent speech, Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said that under the bill, "access to bankruptcy will be protected for all Americans, but wealthy debtors living lavish lifestyles will be required to enter repayment plans. It's that simple."

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