It appears that there will be no divorcing the bankruptcy reform bill from the controversy over abortion rights.
While House Republican leaders are crafting a bankruptcy reform bill, this one without the so-called Schumer amendment targeting abortion clinic protestors, a Senate version is almost sure to be tangled up over abortion rights again.
Representatives in Sen. Schumer's office were coy last week about their intentions on the bill, but the first appearance by all six Democratic candidates for president at a Naral Pro-Choice America celebration commemorating the 30th anniversary of the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision banning state laws restricting abortion is a clear signal that the abortion issue will be a key focus of the upcoming presidential campaign.
That campaign will include several key Democratic lawmakers, including Rep. Richard Gephardt, erstwhile House Minority Leader, and Sens. Joe Lieberman, John Edwards, and John Kerry, among others, all of whom are expected to court the pro-choice lobby, a key Democratic constituency.
In addition, Republican lawmakers, who now control both the House and Senate, have signaled their intention to revisit the abortion issue in several ways, including a ban on so-called partial birth abortions.
CUNA lobbyist John McKechnie, mindful of how the issue torpedoed the bankruptcy bill as it was on its way to passage last year, said he is wary of dragging his credit union constituents through tough lobbying efforts if it is doomed to end the same way. The bill itself, focusing on a means-based bankruptcy system, passed both the House and Senate by broad bipartisan majorities last Congress, but died in a House-Senate conference because of a provision sponsored by Sen. Schumer that would bar abortion clinic protestors from shielding their assets under bankruptcy court protection. At the last minute, House Republican leaders refused to bring the bill to a final vote because the GOP's anti- abortion lobby objected to the provision. The maneuver allowed Democrats to blame the Republicans for killing the bill.
"Last year's bill," said McKechnie, "became nothing more than an issue of partisan finger-pointing, and I'm not interested in subjecting credit unions to that."
Credit union officials around the country point to the continued rise in personal bankruptcy filings and insist there is still a need for some kind of bankruptcy reform. It will be interesting to see what effect the continued economic downturn and mass corporate lay-offs have on this issue.
Will credit unions and other lenders continue to insist that they deserve assistance during these hard economic times? Or will the sympathy switch to the new wave of jobless?