Gramm Readies Bankruptcy Overhaul Bill

Banking Chairman Plans To Send It To Pres. Bush

The Senate Banking Committee chairman said Monday he plans to send President Bush a new bankruptcy overhaul bill that would make it harder for people to erase their debts in court.
Congress overwhelmingly passed a similar bill last year, but it was vetoed by President Clinton, who said it was unfair to ordinary debtors and working families who fall on hard times.

Bush is widely expected to sign such legislation if it reaches his desk.

"I think it will be a better bill" than the vetoed one, the chairman, Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas, said at a news conference.

That would mean a stricter stance toward debtors, particularly wealthy ones, who abuse the bankruptcy court system, Gramm indicated.

He rejected the view, popular among lawmakers, that credit card companies share the blame for increased bankruptcy filings because they aggressively push new cards to consumers. He said companies that extend credit shouldn't be held responsible.

"I think people have to be held accountable for their own actions," he said.

Last year's bill would have required credit card companies to tell customers in monthly bills how long it would take to pay off balances if they made only the minimum required payments.

Such provisions were supported by consumer groups, unions and other opponents of the overall bankruptcy legislation. They maintained it would hurt families hit by job losses, catastrophic medical expenses or other unforeseeable hardships that push them over the edge financially.

"There's a lot of abusive tactics going on in the credit card industry that need to be addressed," Frank Torres, legislative counsel for Consumers Union, said after Gramm spoke. "How can he not put some responsibility on the people offering the credit in the first place?"

Sen. Paul Sarbanes of Maryland, the Banking Committee's senior Democrat, didn't immediately return a telephone call seeking comment on Gramm's remarks.

The banking and credit card industries supported the bankruptcy overhaul legislation, giving millions of dollars in political contributions to sympathetic lawmakers in both parties last year.

Gramm, outlining his agenda for the banking panel this year, also said he would push for legislation to restrict exports of sensitive high-technology equipment and to reduce fees paid by companies to register and trade stocks, which he called "a tax on the seed corn of society."

He also promised a review of federal securities laws in light of recent technological and market changes.