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Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Drowning in Debt 

You may have read about the failed campaign by certain Democratic legislators to exempt victims of Hurricane Katrina from the draconian provisions of the new bankruptcy law. Today's NYT outlined the Republican response:
But House Republicans, who fought off a proposed amendment that would have made bankruptcy filings easier for victims of natural disasters, said there was no reason to carve out a broad exemption just because of the storm.

Representative F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. of Wisconsin, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, rejected the notion of reopening the legislation, saying it already included provisions that would ensure that people left "down and out" by the storm would still be able to shed most of their debts. Lawmakers who lost the long fight over the law, he said, "ought to get over it," according to The Associated Press.
Our steadfast colleague Wayne Uff at Bad Attitudes explains that even if the families displaced by Katrina are flung deeper into destitution, there will be no cause for concern. The new bankruptcy bill will be working exactly as planned:
Congress in fact knew well that the typical consumer bankruptcy filing is not due to a spendthrift who set out to scam credit card companies, but to disaster, usually medical disaster.

A medical disaster, of course, is every bit as devastating for the sick person and his or her family as being displaced by a hurricane; in fact more so, since thankfully most of the families affected by Katrina still have their lives and health left; they have the healthy bodies needed to rebuild, to get another job, and to secure new health insurance, options not open to families struck by the personal disaster of a serious illness . . . .

So spare us, NYT; the central purpose of the bankruptcy law was to boost the profits of credit card companies by preventing families who had suffered a disaster from getting a fresh start, and the lesson of Katrina for bankruptcy law is that the law’s intent is cruel and nation-weakening, not that the law is having unintended consequences for Katrina victims. At least the law’s proponents such as Sensenbrenner are being candid: it would be unfair to treat one million victims of a huge public disaster such as Katrina any differently from the victims of millions of equally serious, but separate, lonely, and individual disasters.

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