The Senate’s moral bankruptcy

The pending bankruptcy bill reads like a wish list for the credit card industry -- and couldn't be nastier to the average American consumer.

Topics: U.S. Senate,

U.S. senators are about to pass a bankruptcy bill so hostile to ordinary American families that it could only have come about in a place as corrupt, cynical and unmoored from reality as Washington, D.C.

In a normal world, those elected to represent the interests of the people would have fought for bankruptcy legislation that would, well, represent the interests of the people. But not in Beltway Bizarroland. Instead of cracking down on predatory lending practices, closing loopholes that favor the wealthy, and strengthening the safety net for working people, single mothers and elderly Americans struggling to recover from a financial setback, the Senate put together a nasty little bill that reads like a credit industry wish list. Rubbing salt in the wound, Sen. Charles Grassley, the bill’s chief sponsor, labeled it the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005 — even though it does nothing to prevent bankruptcy abuse or protect consumers.

So what does the bill do? It makes it harder for average people to file for bankruptcy protection; it makes it easier for landlords to evict a bankrupt tenant; it endangers child-support payments by giving a wider array of creditors a shot at post-bankruptcy income; it allows millionaires to shield an unlimited amount of equity in homes and asset-protection trusts; it makes it more difficult for small businesses to reorganize while opening new loopholes for the Enrons of the world; it allows creditors to provide misleading information; and it does nothing to rein in lending abuses that frequently turn manageable debt into unmanageable crises. Even in failure, ordinary Americans do not get a level playing field.

Credit card companies have been feverishly lobbying for this legislation for nearly a decade — and it looks like the $34 million the finance and credit industries have contributed to political campaigns since 1996 is finally about to pay off. On Tuesday, the cloture vote on the bill was 69 to 31. The House passed similar legislation last year, and GOP leaders are hoping to bypass the conference committee deadlocks that have derailed similar measures in the past and to get the bill on President Bush’s desk in short order. The president, well aware that credit card giant MBNA is one of the Republican Party’s largest donors, has promised to sign the bill as soon as someone hands him a pen.



Make no mistake, the inequitable nature of the bill — bending over backward to help the credit card industry while sticking it to American working people who fall on hard times — is no accident. Time and again over the last week, the Senate shot down amendments that would have made the bill a bit less mean-spirited. They denied proposals that would have made it easier for military veterans, the sick and the elderly to qualify for bankruptcy protection. They even rejected an amendment that would have put a 30 percent ceiling on the interest rates credit card companies can charge. Thirty percent — that’s more than Paulie Walnuts charges. But 74 U.S. senators — including John Kerry, Harry Reid, Barack Obama and Dick Durbin — clearly thought that wasn’t high enough. Quick, somebody send those guys a Bible bookmarked to Deuteronomy 23:19: “Thou shalt not lend upon usury to thy brother.”

For years, credit card companies have been claiming that tougher laws are needed to rein in high-flying customers using bankruptcy to game the system. But the truth is that the vast majority of people who file for bankruptcy are middle-class folks who can’t pay their bills because they’ve lost their jobs or been hit with high medical bills or gone through a divorce.

Indeed, a recent study by Harvard University found that half of last year’s 1.6 million bankruptcies were the result of crushing medical bills. Put another way: Every 30 seconds, someone in this country files for bankruptcy in the wake of a serious illness. How’s that for a shocking stat? Here’s another: Three-quarters of the so-called medically bankrupt had health insurance. It just wasn’t enough to cover the dramatic rise in healthcare costs.

But instead of adapting to this harsh new reality, where hard-working, college-educated, middle-class folks can be financially destroyed by a sudden illness, the Senate is about to approve a one-size-fits-all law that treats a family man who has sunk into debt because of a heart attack the same as a con artist who maxes out his MasterCard, then refuses to pay up.

Worst of all, the bill does absolutely nothing to protect consumers from the aggressive tactics credit card companies have devised in recent years — tactics that have proven hugely profitable. Along with sending out over 5 billion solicitations a year, they are constantly developing new ways to stick it to the people they’ve already lured into the tent. For instance, companies now routinely jack up a cardholder’s interest rate when their payment is late — and, presto, a “fixed” 7 percent APR is suddenly transformed into a cash-gobbling 30 percent loan.

There has also been an explosion in the fees that credit card companies charge: late fees, balance transfer fees, cash-advance fees, over-the-limit fees. Such fees bring in billions and are partly responsible for the fact that, even as personal bankruptcies in America have steadily increased, so have the profits of credit card companies — which reached a whopping $30 billion last year.

So tell me again: Just who is gaming the system?

It’s one thing for credit card companies to exact their pound of flesh even as their profits soar. But shouldn’t we hold our elected officials to a higher standard? The bankruptcy bill is morally bankrupt. And so is any senator who votes for it.

Arianna Huffington is a nationally syndicated columnist, the co-host of the National Public Radio program "Left, Right, and Center," and the author of 10 books. Her latest is "Fanatics and Fools: The Game Plan for Winning Back America."

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 14
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Pilot"

    One of our first exposures to uncomfortable “Girls” sex comes early, in the pilot episode, when Hannah and Adam “get feisty” (a phrase Hannah hates) on the couch. The pair is about to go at it doggy-style when Adam nearly inserts his penis in “the wrong hole,” and after Hannah corrects him, she awkwardly explains her lack of desire to have anal sex in too many words. “Hey, let’s play the quiet game,” Adam says, thrusting. And so the romance begins.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Elijah, "It's About Time"

    In an act of “betrayal” that messes up each of their relationships with Hannah, Marnie and Elijah open Season 2 with some more couch sex, which is almost unbearable to watch. Elijah, who is trying to explore the “hetero side” of his bisexuality, can’t maintain his erection, and the entire affair ends in very uncomfortable silence.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Charlie, "Vagina Panic"

    Poor Charlie. While he and Marnie have their fair share of uncomfortable sex over the course of their relationship, one of the saddest moments (aside from Marnie breaking up with him during intercourse) is when Marnie encourages him to penetrate her from behind so she doesn’t have to look at him. “This feels so good,” Charlie says. “We have to go slow.” Poor sucker.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and camp friend Matt, "Hannah's Diary"

    We’d be remiss not to mention Shoshanna’s effort to lose her virginity to an old camp friend, who tells her how “weird” it is that he “loves to eat pussy” moments before she admits she’s never “done it” before. At least it paves the way for the uncomfortable sex we later get to watch her have with Ray?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Hard Being Easy"

    On the heels of trying (unsuccessfully) to determine the status of her early relationship with Adam, Hannah walks by her future boyfriend’s bedroom to find him masturbating alone, in one of the strangest scenes of the first season. As Adam jerks off and refuses to let Hannah participate beyond telling him how much she likes watching, we see some serious (and odd) character development ... which ends with Hannah taking a hundred-dollar bill from Adam’s wallet, for cab fare and pizza (as well as her services).

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Booth Jonathan, "Bad Friend"

    Oh, Booth Jonathan -- the little man who “knows how to do things.” After he turns Marnie on enough to make her masturbate in the bathroom at the gallery where she works, Booth finally seals the deal in a mortifying and nearly painful to watch sex scene that tells us pretty much everything we need to know about how much Marnie is willing to fake it.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Tad and Loreen, "The Return"

    The only sex scene in the series not to feature one of the main characters, Hannah’s parents’ showertime anniversary celebration is easily one of the most cringe-worthy moments of the show’s first season. Even Hannah’s mother, Loreen, observes how embarrassing the situation is, which ends with her husband, Tad, slipping out of the shower and falling naked and unconscious on the bathroom floor.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and the pharmacist, "The Return"

    Tad and Loreen aren’t the only ones to get some during Hannah’s first season trip home to Michigan. The show’s protagonist finds herself in bed with a former high school classmate, who doesn’t exactly enjoy it when Hannah puts one of her fingers near his anus. “I’m tight like a baby, right?” Hannah asks at one point. Time to press pause.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Role-Play"

    While it’s not quite a full-on, all-out sex scene, Hannah and Adam’s attempt at role play in Season 3 is certainly an intimate encounter to behold (or not). Hannah dons a blond wig and gets a little too into her role, giving a melodramatic performance that ends with a passerby punching Adam in the face. So there’s that.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and Ray, "Together"

    As Shoshanna and Ray near the end of their relationship, we can see their sexual chemistry getting worse and worse. It’s no more evident than when Ray is penetrating a clothed and visibly horrified Shoshanna from behind, who ends the encounter by asking if her partner will just “get out of me.”

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Frank, "Video Games"

    Hannah, Jessa’s 19-year-old stepbrother, a graveyard and too much chatting. Need we say more about how uncomfortable this sex is to watch?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Desi, "Iowa"

    Who gets her butt motorboated? Is this a real thing? Aside from the questionable logistics and reality of Marnie and Desi’s analingus scene, there’s also the awkward moment when Marnie confuses her partner’s declaration of love for licking her butthole with love for her. Oh, Marnie.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Vagina Panic"

    There is too much in this scene to dissect: fantasies of an 11-year-old girl with a Cabbage Patch lunchbox, excessive references to that little girl as a “slut” and Adam ripping off a condom to ejaculate on Hannah’s chest. No wonder it ends with Hannah saying she almost came.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>