WASHINGTON - The Senate Judiciary Committee cleared the bankruptcy overhaul bill Wednesday, eliminating one sticking point but leaving several others for Thursday's anticipated floor action.
The legislation appears headed for passage in both chambers.
"They're not going to stop it," Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch said of the bill's opponents after the committee's 10-to-8 vote in favor of the bill.
The Utah Republican said that opponents could slow the legislation down but predicted they will ultimately fail "unless the entire process breaks down and there is no bipartisanship."
The House cleared the way for a vote on its version of the bankruptcy bill Wednesday afternoon and was expected to begin debate this morning.
The Senate Judiciary Committee accepted some Democratic amendments Wednesday, most notably one by Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., that would prohibit people convicted of crimes from filing for bankruptcy to avoid paying court-ordered fines, penalties, or damages.
Similar amendments that specifically applied to people convicted of violence against abortion clinics held up identical bankruptcy legislation in the 106th Congress before it eventually passed, only to be pocket-vetoed by then-President Clinton. Sen. Schumer modified his amendment to eliminate all specific references to abortion.
He scored again when the committee unanimously agreed to adopt his "netting" amendment. The provision is designed to limit the damage that can occur when a company that holds derivatives contracts files for bankruptcy.
Under current law, derivative contracts are frozen in a bankruptcy proceeding, which prevents creditors of a bankrupt institution from settling their obligations. The amendment would allow creditors to reconcile, or "net out," their derivatives contracts, and thus reduce their losses.
Sen. Hatch and Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the ranking Democrat on the committee, collaborated on an amendment to protect consumer privacy. Their amendment, adopted on a voice vote, would prohibit companies filing for bankruptcy from selling client lists containing personal information, such as Social Security numbers, as a way to pay off creditors. The provision also would create a consumer privacy ombudsman to protect consumers' interests in bankruptcy court.
Sen. Leahy said the Toy-Smart.com case revealed the need for such a provision. The company had a privacy statement assuring customers that personal information would be kept confidential, but when it went under, the bankruptcy judge ordered it to sell one of its only assets - its customer list - to pay off its debts, Sen. Leahy said.
Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., a vocal bankruptcy opponent, got about half his amendments approved outright and agreed to save some of his more controversial provisions for the Senate floor.
Two of his victories concern farming. One of his amendments would make it easier for farmers to qualify for more lenient Chapter 12 terms by lowering the amount of a filer's income that comes from farming operations, to 50% from 80%, and by doubling the debt limit to $3 million. The other would ensure that any bankruptcy payment plan leaves a farmer with enough money to continue farming.
The panel also agreed to a modified version of Sen. Feingold's amendment dealing with renter's eviction during bankruptcy proceedings.
The committee's work Tuesday and Wednesday still left about half of Democrats' 30-odd amendments to be tackled on the Senate floor.
Some of the more nettlesome outstanding points concern whether bankruptcy filers can keep expensive homes and how much information credit companies must provide consumers about interest rates and minimum payments.