WASHINGTON The House approved bankruptcy overhaul legislation Thursday on a 306-to-108 vote.
Personal bankruptcies topped one million in the mid-1990s after averaging around 300,000 in the previous decade, Rep. James P. Moran, D-Va., said during the debate over the bill. Something is wrong. Its become too easy to walk away from your debts.
Among other provisions, the bill would establish a means test to determine whether people should be allowed to file for protection under Chapter 7 of the federal Bankruptcy Code, which discharges filers from credit card and other unsecured debts. It would make more debtors file under Chapter 13, which requires debtors to pay off most or all their debts.
Democrats failed in an attempt to cushion what they said would be a blow to consumers and lower-income Americans.
Their defeated substitute amendment would have allowed debtors to claim additional health-related and child-care expenses as part of the means test. It also would have enhanced consumer privacy protections and eliminated an unrelated provision of the bill that would permit investors in Lloyds of London to file suit in U.S. courts to recoup damages for fraud that allegedly took place more than 20 years ago.
These are some of the changes that will not fix the bill totally but will at least make a bad bill better, Rep. Robert C. Scott, D-Va., said from the House floor.
Rep. George W. Gekas, R-Pa., countered that if Democrats were concerned about women and children, they would support the GOP version of the bill. Currently, payments such as alimony and child support are seventh in line for collection, behind attorneys fees, Rep. Gekas said. The bill would move those payments to the front of the line, he said.
Robert R. Davis, managing director of government relations for Americas Community Bankers, said his group is delighted the House passed the bill, and that the amendments do not disturb the content and purpose of the bill.
Numerous amendments, including several pro-consumer changes advocated by Rep. John J. LaFalce, D-N.Y., were not brought up for consideration.
Attention now turns to the Senate, where Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., a longtime opponent of the bill, has renewed his threat to filibuster it.
The Senate, which is scheduled to start debate Monday, may incorporate the Houses amendments. Doing so would eliminate the need for compromises between the two chambers and hasten its delivery to President Bush.
If that happens, even critics such as Rep. LaFalce say they believe it will be signed by the President. Any bill that comes out of this Republican Congress will probably be signed into law, he said.