Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Bankruptcy Bill Moves Forward

Yesterday, I encouraged ASZ readers to give their Senators a call and voice opposition to the bankruptcy bill, S.256. With 24 hours now in the rear view mirror, it would seem that progressives didn't gain a lot of traction on defeating or amending the bill as it has progressed through the Senate. After defeat of several amendments to the bill, largely along party lines (including the Schumer amendment), the GOP leadership forced a cloture vote, which essentially limits debate to 30 hours and derails a potential filibuster.

There's still some procedural maneuvering ongoing, but I want to discuss the cloture vote for a moment before diving into today's strategy. Here's how the San Francisco Chronicle (via a Washington Post report) characterized the Senate consideration of the bill yesterday:

Senators voted 53-46 to defeat a contentious amendment offered by Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., that had helped sink the legislation in prior years. The measure would have made it harder for people who break the law while protesting abortion to use bankruptcy to avoid paying court-ordered fines.

In another crucial vote Tuesday, 14 Democrats joined Republicans in a 69- 31 majority to limit to 30 hours further debate on the legislation. Sixty votes are needed to cap debate in the Senate, and the chamber's 55 Republicans were uncertain just hours before the vote whether enough Democrats would join them.

There's more than a smidgen of perception management going on in the above two paragraphs.

First off, the Schumer amendment didn't just apply to abortion protestors. It applied to anyone convicted of a crime, who then had a civil judgment rendered against them as a result of that crime, discharged in a bankruptcy -- Jeffery Skilling of Enron, for example. So the abortion hot button talking point, as a reason for defeat of the Schumer amendment, was merely a smoke screen for the real crooks. See my earlier post for a more detailed explanation.

Secondly, the cloture vote on this absolutely draconian bill (of which the full impact of all changes aren't even yet clear) should send a strong, strong, strong message to progressives: 14 Democrats defected to the Republican side of the aisle in order to limit further debate on the bankruptcy bill. Here's the Democratic Credit Card Corps, as noted on Talking Points Memo:

Sen. Joe Biden (D-Delaware) Commander-in-Chief
Sen. Tom Carper (D-Delaware) Captain
Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Nebraska)
Sen. Tim Johnson (D-South Dakota)
Sen. Robert Byrd (D-West Virginia)
Sen. Kent "the Kernel" Conrad (D-North Dakota)
Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wisconsin)
Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-Lousiana)
Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Connecticut) Spy
Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Arkansas)
Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Florida)
Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Arkansas)
Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Colorado)
Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan)

That's a fairly high-powered list, no? And the highlighted names in that list include a few Senators who have either higher office aspirations, or were previously backed by progressives. No more. It's time to call them out.

What's really disappointing is that Senate Minority Leader Reid could not get these folks to hold together - a simple party lines vote would have defeated cloture and set the stage for a bill-breaking filibuster. Even giving Biden and Carper their state (MBNADelaware), the Dems would have derailed cloture.

To say I'm disappointed in the Democratic leadership and the spineless big business toadies shown in the list above is an understatement. But, there are still a few tricks up the sleeve. Barbara Boxer is offering an amendment today on exclusions for creditors, and there was talk last night in ZoneBot Chat that Sen. Durbin was going to be offering some ameliorating amendments today. We'll see. The bottom line is that those calls (multiple calls if possible), faxes, and emails are still important. Here's the link for Senate contact information.

Lastly, this is one of those core issues, regardless of the final outcome, that will establish the basis for fighting ahead in the midterm elections next year. Both Republican and Democratic Senators should be on notice that, even now, the score is being kept. And we will use issues like this as campaign bludgeon sticks going forward.

If you have the time, make some calls today. And a big THANK YOU to everyone who took a moment of their day to make the calls yesterday. They know we're out here.

Update, 3:50PM EST - Digby has more. And it's good. What else is new?