Tuesday are expected to win a significant procedural victory that could postpone Senate consideration of the bill until next month -- or even next year.
Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott has scheduled a key vote for Tuesday afternoon that would limit the scope of amendments and length of floor debate. This so-called cloture motion is necessary because Democrats are threatening to tie up the legislation by attaching a minimum wage hike and other unrelated amendments.
Sen. Lott needs 60 votes to win. Though bipartisan support exists for the bill, it is getting caught up in broader political fights. Industry lobbyists predict Democrats will rally to defeat the majority leader's motion as a show of force against Republicans.
"We are not real optimistic about the cloture vote passing," said Beth L. Climo, a lobbyist for the American Bankers Association.
If the vote indeed falls short, Sen. Lott is expected to postpone the legislation for weeks because the Senate has to concentrate on passing spending bills, campaign finance reform, and other pressing matters. The bill may even be put aside until after Congress reconvenes next year.
"It would be late October" at the earliest, said a spokesman for Sen. Charles E. Grassley, the bill's chief author. And "that would be if the leader brought it up again. I don't believe there are any commitments as to that."
Industry supporters of the legislation have been lobbying behind the scenes for Sen. Lott and Senate Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle to strike a procedural compromise that would eliminate the need for a cloture vote.
"We are trying to keep the two sides talking and urging them to work this out," said Jeff Tassey, senior vice president of government affairs for the American Financial Services Association. "It is generally believed that if the bill goes to the floor, it will pass."
If a deal does not materialize, lobbyists will pressure the Senate to get the bill back on track as soon as possible. Otherwise, lawmakers may run out of time to enact the controversial legislation this year.
"Efforts would continue to try to reach an agreement," said William P. Binzel, vice president of public affairs for MasterCard International.
Meanwhile, Sen. Grassley, R-Iowa, and Sen. Robert G. Torricelli, D-N.J., continue to negotiate a deal to draw more Democratic support. And Sen. Torricelli is still working on an amendment that would impose disclosure requirements on credit card companies, including giving customers a standard example of how long it would take to pay off a given balance by making minimum monthly payments.
The Senate Judiciary Committee approved the bill in April. It would let bankruptcy judges force debtors who could afford to pay $15,000 or 25% of unsecured credit over five years to file under Chapter 13 of the bankruptcy code. Creditors also could ask judges to force a consumer into Chapter 13, rather than eliminating their debts in Chapter 7.
The industry favors the stricter House bill, which passed by a veto-proof, 313-to-108 vote in May.