PARTISAN FIGHTING SHELVES BANKRUPTCY BILL FOR NOW

Byline: Joanna Ramey

WASHINGTON — A procedural fight between Senate Republicans and Democrats Tuesday bumped bankruptcy reform legislation off the agenda, but the bill isn’t considered dead.
The measure was shelved over an argument about how much time should be allotted to debate non-bankruptcy-related amendments — principally a bill to increase the minimum wage by $1 to $6.15 offered by Sen. Edward Kennedy (D., Mass.)
The House has already passed its bankrutpcy bill, and sponsors of reform in the Senate and supporters — like retailers — were counting on action there this week. Among other things, the measures call for setting a means test to require more people to repay a portion of their debts.
A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott said the bankruptcy reform bill will resurface possibly within a week, giving time for both sides to settle differences.
“Sen. Lott is committed to this bill,” the spokesman said. “We’re not going to give up on it.”
While still controversial among several Democrats, the Senate bill is viewed as a bipartisan compromise more in line with what the White House has requested. The administration, seeking what it feels would be a more consumer-friendly bill, has said it would veto the House-passed version.
In a letter sent Tuesday to Lott, the National Retail Federation Tuesday urged differences with Democrats be settled.
“Every week the Senate delays, more than 17,000 households use Chapter 7 [bankruptcy] to wipe out what they owe. Society picks up the tab,” wrote Steve Pfister, senior vice president, government relations. “The leadership of both parties will be blamed if the Senate again fails to address this problem.”
Regarding the minimum wage increase, Republicans in the Senate have said they are resigned to seeing some increase in the $5.15 wage floor, but they don’t want the Kennedy amendment on bankruptcy to be the vehicle. Leadership in both chambers want business tax breaks or other sweeteners to be included in legislation, to offset the cost to business of raising wages.