WASHINGTON - Federal bankruptcy reform legislation has risen from the ashes, but a renewed presidential veto threat and lawmakers' desire to adjourn and go campaign are expected to prevent its enactment this year.
The House passed compromise legislation on a voice vote Thursday, after a surprise deal was reached a day earlier between House and Senate lawmakers. The bill was inserted into a gutted embassy security bill that had previously passed and, under special rules, is protected from repeated filibuster efforts. Democratic opponents' threats to block the bill there had held it up for months.
A Senate vote is expected next week, but White House Chief of Staff John Podesta vowed Thursday that the "fundamentally flawed" legislation will get no further because, he said, it favors creditors and does not include tough enough limits on wealthy homeowners and abortion clinic attackers who abuse the system.
"If this bankruptcy legislation is sent to the President, he will veto it," Mr. Podesta wrote in a letter to House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert before the vote. "The President wants to sign legislation that addresses these known abuses, without tilting the playing field against those debtors who turn to bankruptcy genuinely in need of a fresh start."
Democratic congressional leaders were more reserved Thursday.
Senate Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle said he has not decided whether to support the legislation. Sens. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., and Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., have threatened to try to tie it up, but Republicans and some Democratic allies said they have enough votes to cut off debate and, if necessary, override a veto later.
Sen. Daschle predicted that, with Congress scheduled to adjourn as early as next week, the bill would not become law.
"It seems to me we're going to run out of time," he said. "And if, and I don't know this, but if the President, of course, would veto the bill, I'm not sure how you'd schedule the session required to override a veto."
But if legislators overwhelmingly support the bill, the President may find it difficult to follow up on his veto threat, said Edward L. Yingling, the chief lobbyist for the American Bankers Association.
Though some skeptics say Republicans are merely trying to score political points, Mr. Yingling said that the upcoming election is not expected to influence President Clinton's decision. It would be difficult for the President to make bankruptcy a campaign issue because many Democratic legislators back the bill, he added.
The compromise is similar to the bill that was approved in the House last year and in the Senate in February, minus many of the controversial provisions that had stalled it for months. The bill's tougher "needs-based" standards would push more bankruptcy filers into Chapter 13 payment plans instead of having their debts eliminated under Chapter 7 of the Bankruptcy Code. For example, judges could force debtors into Chapter 13 who could afford to repay the lower of $10,000 or 25% of unsecured debt over five years.
The compromise retains a provision from a Senate version that would require credit card companies to warn customers about the cost of making the minimum monthly payment, and to give standard illustrative examples or mathematical tables to help customers estimate their debts.
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