Almost on the eve of Senate consideration of bankruptcy reform, key lawmakers are finalizing compromises that could smooth passage of the controversial legislation.
Sen. Robert G. Torricelli, D-N.J., is expected to introduce an amendment that would require credit card companies to give customers a standard example of how long it would take someone to pay off a given balance -- for instance, $1,000 of principal at a 17% annual interest rate -- by making minimum monthly payments.
Under this plan, lenders could avoid having to make specific projections for each customer which they have said would be onerous and of limited value given interest rate shifts and other changing variables. However, they would have to provide a toll-free phone number customers could call to find out how much time they would have to pay off their balances.
Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott plans to bring up the bankruptcy bill for debate as early as Tuesday. A vote could occur by the end of next week unless Democrats propose unrelated controversial amendments. For instance, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., is expected to try to attach a minimum-wage hike.
The House passed bankruptcy reform in by a veto-proof 313-108 vote in May; it is considered more favorable to lenders and is opposed by President Clinton.
Sen. Charles E. Grassley, the Iowa Republican who introduced the bill, and Sen. Torricelli have crafted a bipartisan compromise on other issues. Among other things, it would clarify that debtors who earn below the national median income (or state median, if higher) would be exempt from means tests to determine whether they can afford to repay some of their debts under Chapter 13 of the bankruptcy code or may eliminate them all in Chapter 7.
It would also soften the means test for families with more than four members and authorize the Treasury Department to modify after finishing a study -- the bill's guidelines on calculating living expenses and disposable incomes of bankruptcy filers.