- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 28, 2002

ASSOCIATED PRESS
House Republican leaders finally had a deal with Senate Democrats on long-stalled bankruptcy legislation, and congressional passage seemed primed.
Hours later, by early yesterday morning, the agreement had fallen apart because of an abortion dispute, jeopardizing a bill President Bush indicated he would sign.
A group of pro-life lawmakers opposed a part of the bill that would prevent abortion protesters from declaring bankruptcy if courts fine them.
The late-night revolt gives opponents until September to array against legislation that would have made it harder for Americans to escape overwhelming debt in bankruptcy court.
For five years, the legislation has gotten close to passing. "This is as close as it's ever gotten," said Travis Plunkett of the Consumer Federation of America.
Republican leaders insist they will push the bill through when they return in September from their summer break.
Credit card companies and banks have pushed for the legislation for years, saying current law forces them to absorb billions of dollars in losses each year from bankrupt consumers.
House Judiciary Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner and Rep. Henry J. Hyde, the chief bankruptcy negotiators and both Republicans with pro-life voting records, cornered lawmakers in the House chamber and argued with the Republican rebels in closed-door meetings all night to no avail.
Mr. Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin and Mr. Hyde of Illinois had worked all year to come to an agreement with Senate Democrats, and had finally gotten a deal Thursday night.
The sticking point was a provision that would prohibit people who attack or block access to abortion clinics from declaring bankruptcy if fined.
Mr. Hyde fought all year to curb or kill that provision. He relented only after Senate Democrats agreed to limit the measure to people who intentionally or knowingly violate the law.
But other pro-life lawmakers, led by Reps. Christopher H. Smith, New Jersey Republican, and Mike Pence, Indiana Republican, objected to Mr. Hyde's deal.
"We are going to expose many peaceful pro-life protesters to financial ruin by making these fines nondischargeable," said Mr. Pence, although he acknowledged that bucking Mr. Hyde and the overall bill was painful.
"It's giving us great heartburn," he said. "All of us certainly support the sponsors of the bill."
House Republicans, who control the chamber by only seven votes, need every Republican vote to pass the legislation, with several Democrats lined up in opposition.
There were 1.5 million bankruptcy filings in the U.S. Bankruptcy Courts in the 12 months that ended March 31. Personal bankruptcy accounts for about 97 percent of that figure, officials said.
Chapter 7 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code allows people to escape paying any of their credit card and other debts. Filings under Chapter 13 force people to repay debts over time in accordance with a court-approved plan.


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