Lame Duck = Last Chance for Bankruptcy Bill?
lame duck legislative session after the mid-term election presents the last opportunity
to try to move the long-stalled bankruptcy reform bill (H.R. 333) in the
107th Congress. The bill was approved by a conference committee this summer, but
has run aground on opposition from anti-abortion members in the House. These members
strongly object to the inclusion of a Senate-backed provision that would make
non-dischargeable certain fines arising from violation of the Freedom of Access to
Clinic Entrances Act, a law the critics say would single out peaceful abortion
protesters for disparate bankruptcy treatment. The threatened defection by these House
members on the whole bill has convinced the leadership not to risk an embarrassing defeat
of the conference report on the floor just before the fall elections. However, it is
assumed that once the election is over, the leadership might feel free to move the
bill, notwithstanding the opposition. House Republicans now maintain a very narrow
majority; a shift in a few seats on Election Day could hand control to Democrats,
who are more likely to oppose the current version of the bankruptcy bill. This fact
also could complicate the lame duck strategy.
Meanwhile, there is some evidence that business groups in the financial services and
banking industries are showing some frustration with social conservatives for opposing the
bill. Several House members reported to National Public Radio in mid-October that these
otherwise supportive groups appear to have retaliated against them by backing out of
fund-raising events late in the fall campaign.
On the other side of the Capitol, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.)
said he was confident that if the House took up the conference report, the Senate
would pass it as well in a lame duck. "It will take a little while to do it, but
I'm prepared to do it because I think that its time has come," he said on Oct.
10. The conference report could be subject to a Senate filibuster by longstanding
opponents such as Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.), and this is likely what Daschle
was referring to in terms of the timing.
A further wildcard in the Senate is a possible change in the majority party should
Republican Jim Talent defeat incumbent Sen. Jean Carnahan in the Missouri Senate race.
Carnahan is filling a seat vacated by her deceased husband; should Talent win on Nov.
5, he could take office immediately, changing the balance of power in the Senate back
to the Republicans. This could make it easier for the bankruptcy bill to reach the
Senate floor and defeat a planned filibuster during the lame duck session. However,
Senate Democrats are likely to use other procedural rules to thwart a total change in
the policy agenda.
Should the bill fail to become law, a new 108th Congress in January would have
to begin work from the legislative starting line.