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Bankruptcy reform legislation is coming on strong out of the gates. Will the momentum last or get mired down in unrelated issues as in years past? By SARAH SNELL COOKE CU Times Senior Washington Reporter WASHINGTON-During the time slot for its usual Thursday business meeting, the Senate Judiciary Committee Feb. 17 passed the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005 (S. 256) out of committee with very little amendment. Former Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) presided over the markup in Chairman Arlen Specter’s (R-Pa.) absence and asked that the committee members honor Specter’s earlier request to keep amendments to a minimum until the bill reached the Senate floor. Specter was reportedly unable to preside over the meeting due to treatment for a recent cancer diagnosis. Most of the committee members, including Senator Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) held off on their amendments, according to CUNA Vice President of Legislative Affairs and Senior Legislative Counsel Gary Kohn who said 150 were filed prior to the markup. NAFCU Senior Legislative Representative Murray Chanow said he expects at least that many to come up when the legislation reaches the Senate floor. “This is still going to take a lot of time on the floor,” he commented. About 15 amendments were offered during markup, Kohn said, and a few that were “in the margins but nothing harmful” were accepted from Senators Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Russ Feingold (D-Wis.). The bill passed out of committee 12-5, he added, with Democratic Senators Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), Joe Biden (Del.) and Herbert Kohl (Wis.) voting in favor of the bill along with all the Republicans except Specter. The leadership has promised to work with the Democrats toward a bill that will be passed, Kohn explained. Deals were sure to be struck behind the scenes during the President’s Day recess last week. Kohn and NAFCU Senior Legislative Representative Murray Chanow said the groups caught wind that Feingold might bring up an amendment concerning reaffirmations but the amendment was not offered during the markup. According to Kohn, the amendment would have made the reaffirmations provision meaningless and CUNA lobbied the committee hard to not accept it. “It’s still unclear what he’s going to do on the floor,” Kohn said of Feingold on this amendment. Whatever happens, the lobbyist is confident the change will not be accepted. What happens when the bill reaches the full Senate-it is currently the first bill slated for action after the week long President’s Day recess, Feb. 21-25-is still very much in the air. Regarding a cloture motion, which is used to put a time limit on debate, Kohn said, “It’s too soon to say. They could always try a cloture motion to limit the number of amendments but it’s premature to say.” A total of 60 Senators must vote in favor of limiting debate. There are currently 55 Republicans in the Senate, so five Democrats would have to jump the proverbial party ship, but some have been highly supportive of the bill. “At some time,” NAFCU’s Chanow predicted, “I think they’re going to go to cloture but I think they’re going to allow the Democrats some time to offer amendments.” He added he does not expect any major changes to the legislation. The motion has been used in the past to break the chance of a filibuster on the bill. Senator Schumer has vowed to do all he can to hold up the bill until his abortion clinic violence amendment is included in the bill. “Bottom line: This is a major step forward on this. Now it’s certain this bill will go to the floor and will get a chance,” Kohn said. He pointed out that one of the frustrations last year for proponents was that it was not even given floor time because an agreement could not be struck. According to Chanow, the House may hold a hearing but will probably hold off on any real action until the Senate had completed work on its bill. That way the House could just take up the Senate bill and approve it or make amendments and send it back to the Senate. “The ideal way is to avoid a conference,” Chanow said. In past Congresses, bankruptcy reform legislation has stalled in conference, which is called when the House and Senate do not pass identical pieces of legislation. [email protected]

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