- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 20, 2003

Consumers would have a harder time erasing their debts in bankruptcy court under legislation that won overwhelming House approval yesterday.
The vote was 315-113 for the measure, which has sped through the Republican-dominated House while splitting Democrats, some of whom said it was unfair to people who have been knocked off their financial feet by tough economic times.
The bill faces less favorable prospects in the closely divided Senate.
A similar measure came close to passage by Congress last year but failed because of a dispute over a provision affecting abortion protesters who file for bankruptcy.
"These common-sense reforms will help curb abuses of bankruptcy protections," the White House budget office said before the vote.
Passage of the legislation, sought by credit-card companies and retailers, followed House approval last week of another pro-business measure, a bill designed to limit jury awards in medical malpractice cases by capping at $250,000 of non-economic damages, such as compensation for loss of a limb or sight.
In the Senate, Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican, has promised to move quickly on the bankruptcy legislation.
But it isn't clear whether proponents in the closely divided body would be able to muster the 60 votes needed to proceed to a vote on the bill.
Lawmakers of both parties support an overhaul of the federal bankruptcy laws, saying it is needed to stop abuse of the bankruptcy system by people who can afford to repay their debts.
The abuse, they contend, creates a hidden tax of about $400 a year for every American family through higher interest rates passed on by consumer credit businesses and other charges.
The record pace of new personal bankruptcies in 2002 is expected to continue this year.
Rep. James F. Sensenbrenner Jr., Wisconsin Republican and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said passage of the legislation was "a victory for those who work hard and pay their bills but are forced to shoulder the debts of those who abuse our personal bankruptcy system."
Consumer and civil rights groups and unions oppose the legislation, saying it is unfair to low-income working people, single mothers, minorities and the elderly, and would remove a safety net for those who have lost their jobs or face mounting medical bills.
Banks, credit-card companies and retailers have pushed since 1997 for the legislation and Democrats said yesterday that those industries have gotten their lobbying money's worth.
"We've fallen victim to the special interests," lamented Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee, Texas Democrat, during floor debate.

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