- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 16, 2002

Senate Democrats yesterday said House Republicans killed a long-sought measure that would have tightened the nation's bankruptcy laws when they stripped from the measure abortion-related language vehemently opposed by conservatives.

The altered measure passed in the House late Thursday night. "House Republicans killed bankruptcy for this year," said Sen. Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat. "We had a compromise. "

After years of rewrites and negotiations, the bankruptcy measure passed both chambers and House-Senate negotiators finally agreed to a conference report this year.

But some House pro-life conservatives opposed a Senate provision in the conference report they said would unfairly punish peaceful abortion protesters.

Leaders brought the conference report to the floor Thursday, ignoring pleas from conservatives not to do so. Conservatives joined Democrats in defeating the rule to allow floor consideration, 172-243 a clear embarrassment to Republican leaders. Eighty-seven Republicans opposed the rule.

"It was a vote of conscience for many, many people who were concerned about the First Amendment rights of peaceful pro-life protesters," said Rep. Joseph R. Pitts, a Pennsylvania Republican who led the charge against the rule.

Republican leaders then stripped the contentious provision and the House passed a new version of the conference report, 244-116, late Thursday night.

Mr. Daschle called the move "another indication of how the far right controls the House Republican Caucus."

The questionable language crafted by New York Democratic Sen. Charles E. Schumer would prevent people from erasing in bankruptcy fines they receive for intentionally using force, threat of force or physical obstruction to injure, intimidate or interfere with a person trying to obtain or provide "lawful goods or services."

A 1994 law with similar wording has been used to levy stiff penalties against protesters outside abortion clinics, including those who simply stand or pray, Republicans said.

Senate Democrats will not bring up the conference report in the Senate without the Schumer language. "Even if I wanted to take it up, it would never pass. It would be subject to a filibuster," Mr. Daschle said yesterday .

John Feehery, spokesman for House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, said Mr. Schumer doomed the bankruptcy measure by insisting the contentious provision remain.

But the bigger problem for House Republican leaders is that they have angered their conservative pro-life base barely a week after an election in which the pro-life vote helped Republicans win back the Senate and gain ground in the House.

"It was like House leadership was saying 'Thank you for your votes, drop dead,'" said Family Research Council President Ken Connor, who urged House leaders not to bring up the bankruptcy conference report and joined other pro-life groups in blasting the leaders for ignoring them.

Mr. Connor said there is now a rift and the pro-life community will be suspicious of any promises the leaders make.

House Republican leaders faced equally heavy pressure from the business community, who desperately wanted the bankruptcy conference report to pass the House before adjournment. The measure would force more debtors to repay their debts.

"We were between a rock and a hard place," Mr. Feehery said.

A House Republican aide said it was House Majority Whip Tom Delay and House Majority Leader Dick Armey, both Texas Republicans, who pushed the conference report to the floor and "put business conservatives before social conservatives. They have done so before and always end up with egg on their face because the social conservatives deliver the votes be it at the ballot box or on the floor."

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