WASHINGTON After bankruptcy overhaul legislation sailed through the Senate Thursday night by a vote of 83-15, industry lobbyists got right to work troubleshooting the sought-after measure for any unwelcome surprises.
Potential bombshells could exist in a last-minute, bipartisan amendment containing about 20 provisions, the implications of which were not immediately clear.
Were looking to see what kind of impact they have, Kenneth Clayton, the American Bankers Associations chief legislative counsel, said Friday afternoon.
The provisions range from one allowing debtors to purchase health insurance to another holding that federal election-law fines are nondischargeable debts.
Industry representatives are already objecting to a handful of other amendments stapled to the underlying bill, which 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 of their debts.
Among the amendments lobbyists have deemed as troublesome is one regarding Chapter 12 bankruptcies. The changes would make it easier for farmers to qualify for more lenient Chapter 12 terms by lowering the amount of a filers income that comes from farming operations, to 50% from 80%, and by doubling the maximum debt to $3 million.
Another is one that would require debtors to pay for luxury goods worth more than $750 that they bought on a credit card within 90 days of filing for bankruptcy. The industry prefers the House version of the amendment, which would require repayment of items worth more than $250.
Were optimistic these amendments will at least be watered down in conference, said Edward L. Yingling, the chief ABA lobbyist. Were going to support the bill that comes out of conference, but these are issues were going to work hard on.
Industry officials are still undecided about several other amendments including one by Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., that would transfer liability for fair-lending violations to companies that purchase loans from bankrupt high-cost lenders.
The bill faces some procedural hurdles, too. For example, convening a conference committee which is required to iron out differences between House and Senate versions of the bill is proving to be problematic and could delay enactment.
Senate Democrats have demanded equal representation on the conference, something they have on standing committees. The Senate is controlled by 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans, with the Republican vice president on hand to break any ties. Senate Judiciary Committee Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, on Thursday said Republicans should have one-seat advantage or the process will become a nightmare.
President Bush is expected to sign the legislation. The Senate eliminated a provision opposed by the administration that would have protected some American investors from paying debts to Lloyds of London. However, the White House is expected to fight the Senate cap on homestead exemptions, which the industry supports.