Tuesday, March 15, 2005
Right now one of the most repugnant pieces of legislation yet crafted by the 109th Congress has already passed the Senate, and is now before the House. It has to do with the ability of an individual to declare bankruptcy, and it's a Republican love note to the credit card industry, bought and paid for by MBNA, the largest single contributor to the Republican party. It attempts to rewrite bankruptcy laws to reduce the protections afforded to consumers against predatory lending practices, and to increase the ability of corporations to collect from those consumers who are already suffering extreme financial hardship. In effect, it turns the federal government into an enforcer for loan-shark practices.
In the Senate, Democrats put forward several amendments to protect the most vulnerable amongst us from this bill. Republicans were successful in voting en mass to defeat all these amendments, including:
. An amendment to protect employees and retirees from corporate practices that deprive them of their earnings and retirement savings when a business files for bankruptcy - REJECTED.
. An amendment to limit the amount of interest that can be charged on any extension of credit to 30 percent - REJECTED.
. An amendment to preserve existing bankruptcy protections for individuals experiencing economic distress as caregivers to ill or disabled family members - REJECTED.
. An amendment to exempt debtors whose financial problems were caused by serious medical problems from means testing - REJECTED.
. An amendment to provide protection for medical debt homeowners - REJECTED.
. An amendment to require enhanced disclosure to consumers regarding the consequences of making only minimum required payments in the repayment of credit card debt, and for other purposes - REJECTED
. An amendment to provide a homestead floor for the elderly - REJECTED.
So who does stand to benefit from the new bill? Well, anyone who is rich enough to put their assets in a "protected trust," rendering them untouchable by bankruptcy laws. Democrats tried to close that loophole with an amendment, but once again the Republicans voted in a block and it was -- you guessed it -- REJECTED.
The bill now goes to the House. Several members of the New Democratic Coalition, including Oregonians David Wu and my Congresswoman, Darlene Hooley, have written a letter to Speaker Dennis Hastert, urging him to bring to bring the bill to the House floor as soon as possible. So I ask my question again, Congresswoman Hooley -- who do you work for?
Because on the surface of it, there is nothing in this bill that benefits her constituents. It is written by and for the benefit of credit card companies who want the right to charge exorbitant rates of interest, then take away the homes of old people when they get sick and can't pay. And Rep. Hooley is one of the co-sponsors of the bill. Does her obligation to her campaign contributors outweigh those she has to the people who voted for her? Because I'm one of those people.
Right now the bill has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee and the Committee on Financial Services. Before it reaches the floor, I believe Rep. Hooley owes it to her constituents to come back to Oregon and explain her support of this bill in a public forum. Since her voting record is frequently progressive and admirable, I believe she should take this opportunity to let everyone who voted for her know exactly how we stand to gain by this piece of legislation.
You can contact Rep. Hooley via email, or at her office:
2430 Rayburn H.O.B.
Washington, DC 20515
(202) 225-5711 phone
(202) 225-5699 fax
315 Mission Street SE #101
Salem, Oregon 97302
(503) 588-9100 phone
(503) 588-5517 fax
West Linn, Oregon
21570 Willamette Drive
West Linn, Oregon 97068
(503) 557-1324 phone
(503) 557-1981 fax
Toll Free 1(888) 446-6539
And for anyone who needs a brush-up on the most effective way to contact your representatives, you can find my earlier post on the subject here.