House and Senate negotiators said Friday that they remain far apart on the key provisions of consumer bankruptcy reform, prompting serious doubts the legislation can be enacted this year.
Backed by the White House, Democrats from both chambers rallied around the Senate bill as pro-consumer legislation that would let a judge decide whether bankruptcy filers may discharge their debts in Chapter 7 or be forced to repay some unsecured debts in Chapter 13.
They also supported consumer-friendly measures in the Senate bill that include forcing credit card companies to disclose on statements how long it would take a customer to pay down his balance if he only paid the monthly minimum.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., said the House bill represents a "wish list" for big banks and credit card companies and cracks down too hard on heavily indebted customers. "The real problem seems to be the irresponsible extension of too much credit to people who are in over their heads," he said.
But House Republicans staunchly defended the House proposal, which would use a formula based on income and monthly living expenses to automatically determine whether a debtor is eligible for Chapter 7.
Rep. Bill McCollum, R-Fla., argued that the House version shields those earning less than annual median income and leaves untouched personal funds earmarked for mortgage, alimony, and other vital payments.
He also complained about limits imposed by the Senate on reaffirmation agreements and added Truth-in-Lending Act burdens.
Senate Republicans tried to bridge the gap. Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa offered to amend the Senate bill so that a judge would have to send debtors to Chapter 13 if they met certain criteria, such as an ability to pay some of their unsecured debt. However, a debtor would be permitted to contest the decision.
Staff members are expected to negotiate over the weekend, but conferees may not have time to reconvene until midweek. Congress is scheduled to adjourn Friday.