Sadly, when it comes to serving the prerogatives of banks, you can forget about those family values that folks such as Grassley prattle on about. The bill he wrote placed mothers and their children behind credit card companies in the line for a bankrupt ex-husband's paycheck, for example, which is positively Dickensian. Expected to sail through the House and onto the president's desk in the next few weeks, the bill turns the federal government into a guardian angel of an industry gone mad, placing no significant restriction on soaring interest rates and proliferating fees.
One extremely modest amendment that was rejected by the Senate would have blocked creditors from recovering debts from military personnel if the loans had annual rates higher than 36%. Also killed were sensible amendments designed to protect those ruined by a medical emergency, identity theft, dependent-caregiver expenses or loss of income due to being called to full-time military duty through the National Guard or the Reserve.
In the end, these individuals are simply not powerful enough to earn the protection of our by-the-powerful, for-the-powerful government. Creditors can scam consumers, Enron can burn California, Halliburton can gouge the Pentagon, the rich can enjoy obscene tax cuts, our "conservative" president can run up the deficit like a drunken sailor — and none of it seems to faze our elected leaders. For them, "fiscal responsibility" is just a high-minded prescription appropriate only for the commoners.
We knew which way the wind would blow when we didn't see Edwards on the House floor, not lined up behind the many brave Democrats who spoke out against this bill. We called his office to not only let him know our wishes on this matter, but asking whether he was in town, since he didn't appear to be in the House. The person answering the phone told us that there are 4XX members of the House, with limited time-we answered back that we saw many House members stepping up multiple times to the mike-it was not a matter of being unable to speak.
Edwards also voted, as noted on another blog entry here, for the abolishment of the Death tax. He was also quoted in a Robert Novak article as making time and urgency to fly back to Washington DC in order to vote for the Schiavo travesty. He therefore makes time for issues he considers important-obviously his mind was made up to vote for Credit Card companies instead of the consumers in his district.
MORE: I don't expect that my representative votes the same way as I would prefer 100 percent of the time. Why, though, does it happen so often that when impassioned Democrats manage to make time to speak their opinion (and even one Democrat from Virginia that spoke out for the bill), but he cannot?
UPDATE: Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Leader, speaks out about the Bankruptcy Bill passage.
"Mr. Speaker, we all agree that every person in our country must be financially responsible, that we take responsibility for our actions, for our debts and we do so in a way that is honorable.
"Over the course of our country's history, our economy and government has always provided for people to get a fresh start under the bankruptcy law, to enable them to go forward and make a contribution to our economy and our society. In recognizing that tradition and in recognizing the appreciation that we have for personal responsibility, I regretfully rise in opposition to this bill.
"This bankruptcy bill seeks to squeeze even more money for credit card companies from the most hard-pressed Americans. It would bind hardworking and honest Americans to credit card companies and other lenders as modern-day indentured servants.
"It is our duty to speak up for those who will be hurt by this bill. And this duty is paramount because we have been shut out of the legislative process to bring any amendments to the floor.
"That would have been an amendment on identity theft, which this week's news accounts demonstrate, is a real problem. A responsible amendment was rejected. We tried to take a legislative course of action in our previous question, which is a procedure here on the floor, but we were unable to get any Republican support to address the issue of identity theft and how individuals can be protected from identity theft under the bankruptcy bill.
"According to the sponsors, the 1.6 million Americans who filed for bankruptcy last year are deadbeats who are avoiding their debts. That's really the essence of what they are saying with this bill. Proponents claim that there is a 'bankruptcy tax' in which honest Americans are footing the bill for abusive users of credit cards.
"We should be vigilant for any abuse of any legal process. There is no evidence, however, of widespread bankruptcy abuse. In fact, a recent study indicated that 45 percent of those filing for bankruptcy had skipped a needed doctor's visit, 25 percent had utilities shut off, and nearly 20 percent went without food. They are not using this money they should be paying in for luxuries; they simply don't have money to survive.
"As a distinguished group of law professors wrote: 'Some people do abuse the bankruptcy system, but the overwhelming majority of people in bankruptcy are in financial distress as a result of job loss, medical expense, divorce, or a combination of those causes....This bill attempts to kill a mosquito with a shotgun.'
"I have a problem with this bill on several counts as to what is contained in the bill. The bankruptcy bill fails miserably on its merits. It employs, for the first time, a stringent and unworkable 'means-test' that limits access to Chapter 7 and forces individuals into payment plans that will fail.
"It frustrates a key goal of the Bankruptcy Code, to give individuals who suffer economic misfortunes through no fault of their own a fresh start. That is an American tradition.
"It lets those who truly abuse and game the bankruptcy system, the wealthy debtors who shield their assets in asset trusts and homestead exemptions, keep their loopholes and get off scot-free.
"And it is wholly unnecessary. Current law already allows a bankruptcy judge to deny a discharge in Chapter 7 to prevent abuses. That is why bankruptcy judges are uniformly opposed to the bill.
"I would like to quote Keith Lundin, a federal bankruptcy judge in Tennessee and an authority on bankruptcy repayment plans. Judge Lundin says: 'The folks who brought you 'those who can pay, should pay' are pulling the stuffing out of the very part of the bankruptcy law where debtors do pay.' He says: "The advocates aren't trying to fix the bankruptcy law; they're trying to mess it up so much that nobody can use it.'
"While it fails to improve the bankruptcy system, this bill succeeds in being harsh, punitive, and mean-spirited.
"This bill is particularly harsh on women, who are often the primary care-providers for their children or their parents, and are the largest single group in bankruptcy; on older Americans, who are the fastest growing group in bankruptcy due to medical costs; and on children. Parents seeking child support will compete with credit card companies and other lenders in state courts, but will have little protection and fewer resources than the large credit card companies they are up against.
"Finally, this bill does a disservice to those who serve our nation, especially our National Guard troops and Reservists who are not protected by an amendment passed by the other body. National Guard and Reservists make up nearly 40 percent of those serving in the Iraq theater. They often leave behind small businesses and jobs and incur debt, but they do not have the benefits and services offered to active duty armed forces.
"This bill would not stop abusive creditors who are stalking down military families while their loved ones are serving our nation, bravely and heroically. I would hope that our Republican colleagues would join us in a bipartisan way to support our motion to recommit that would give opportunities for the National Guard not to be treated this way under the bankruptcy bill.
"Instead of addressing the real causes of bankruptcies, this bill rewards irresponsible corporate behavior and fattens the already large profits of the credit card industry.
"While bankruptcy filings have increased 17 percent in the last eight years, credit card profits have increased more than 160 percent, from $11 billion to more than $30 billion. There are now 5 billion credit card solicitations a year, stuffed into our mailboxes and many targeted at teenagers with no jobs, no income, and no visible means of support to pay credit card bills.
"It is an industry with little oversight and loose underwriting that charges enormous fees and unfair interest payments. This legislation does nothing to address these failings.
"For these and other reasons, Mr. Speaker, I sadly oppose this bill. I say sadly because this is an area where there shouldn't be this major disagreement. If the point is to honor a tradition in our country where people are entitled to a fresh start so they can begin contributing back to our economy and to our society, then we should uphold that. And if people are abusing the system, existing law already covers that.
"Instead, we have a situation where it is mean and harsh to those who can least afford to pay back and gives the opportunity to the wealthiest and corporate abusers of the system."