Monday :: Oct 29, 2007

The Bankruptcy Bill: Democratic Presidential Candidates Edition


by eriposte

INTRODUCTION

In response to one of my previous posts on Sen. Clinton's voting record, in which I pointed out that it is highly misleading and inaccurate to call her a "corporate Democrat" when you look at her overall voting record, reader Tampa Student had this to say about her position on the odious 2005 Bankruptcy Bill (emphasis mine, throughout this post):

Hillary has adopted the Neoliberal platform of the DLC.
...
But for the less 'wonkish' amongst you, I refer you to two very 'unrelated' bills...(1) the Anti-Consumer and cunningly timed Bankruptcy Bill...She didn't attend the roll call vote for the Bankruptcy Bill as a political tactic (her DLC cohorts and think-tanks backed it)...

...The truth is, none of the 'leading' Democratic candidates aren't Neoliberal. Even John Edwards, although if I were forced to pick one, he'd have to be the one. But I've already said, I'm abstaining this time...

It has been apparent to me for some time now that there are some misconceptions prevalent among part of the progressive netroots about the positions of Senators Clinton, Edwards and Obama on the Bankruptcy Bill. Given the importance of this topic, it's worth focusing on their voting records and positions - along with those of Sen. Dodd and Sen. Biden. [NOTE: As I did in a previous post where I introduced the voting records of additional Senators for reference, I will include the voting records of Senator Feingold and Sen. Lieberman in this post.]

SUMMARY

A comparison of the voting records of key Democratic Presidential candidates on the topic of the Bankruptcy Bill indicates that:

1. Senator Chris Dodd has the best, and a near-perfect, voting record on Bankruptcy legislation. He has been consistently and strongly progressive on the topic of Bankruptcy "reform" at least since 2000.

2. Senator Hillary Clinton had a very good record pre-2001 when she (and her husband) helped defeat earlier versions of the Bankruptcy bill. Her record was mixed in 2001 - she voted for the final version of the Bill [she has provided some limited explanations (for her vote) which critics don't consider convincing], but voted against cloture (which has the effect of supporting a filibuster) and supported almost all the progressive amendments to the 2001 Bill. In 2005, she again voted against cloture and supported most of the progressive amendments to the 2005 Bill, but she missed the final day of voting because she was in hospital due to her husband's heart surgery. She has stated that she would have also voted against the final version of the 2005 Bill if she had been present; on balance, I am inclined to give her benefit of doubt on this (just as I am inclined to give Sen. Edwards benefit of doubt on the 2005 Bill).

3. Senator Barack Obama was not in the Senate until 2005 and his record on the 2005 Bankruptcy Bill is overall very good since he voted in favor of most progressive amendments, against invoking cloture and against the final Bill. However, he voted against one key progressive amendment. It is hard for me to judge how he might have voted on the bill in 2000 or 2001.

4. Senator John Edwards had a poor record on the Bankruptcy Bill when he was in the Senate. Although he voted in favor of several progressive amendments to the 2001 Bill, he voted in favor of the 2000 Bill and the 2001 Bill and also voted in favor of cloture (against a filibuster) on the 2001 Bill. By 2005, he had changed his mind and admitted that it was wrong for him to have voted the way he did in prior years - he came out strongly in opposition to the 2005 Bill.

5. Senator Joe Biden's record on the Bankruptcy Bill is consistently awful and appalling for a Democrat. He repeatedly voted for the Bankruptcy Bill (in 2000, 2001, 2005), repeatedly voted for cloture (in 2001 and 2005) and repeatedly voted against several progressive amendments.

RESULTS AND DISCUSSION

I will separate out the data and discussion into the following sections.

1. 2000 Bankruptcy Bill

2. 2001 Bankruptcy Bill

3. 2005 Bankruptcy Bill

4. Conclusions

In all the data tables below, I've used the following color coding:

  • A vote in line with the more progressive position is colored green
  • A vote in line with the more conservative position is colored red
  • A vote whose ideological position was hard for me to cleanly bracket into one of the two categories is colored yellow
  • An absence during voting (no vote = n-v) is colored blue.
  • If a Senator was not a member of Congress during the time of the vote, I use a "-" and no color is assigned in that situation.

1. 2000 Bankruptcy Bill

During the 1990s and culminating in 2000, there were multiple attempts made by Congress to pass Bankruptcy related legislation to help the poor and needy credit card companies. Unfortunately, I don't have the time to research every one of those Bills and how prominent Democrats voted on those Bills. So, I am going to define the starting point of this analysis using the year 2000 version of the legislation that passed in the Senate - the "Bankruptcy Reform Act of 2000".

Let's first look at how Senators in Congress in 2000 voted on the Bill. Sen. Biden, Sen. Edwards and Sen. Lieberman all voted in favor of this Bill (table below). Sen. Dodd and Sen. Feingold opposed the Bill.

Senate
Roll Call #
Vote
Sen. Biden
Sen. Clinton
Sen. Dodd
Sen. Edwards
Sen. Feingold
Sen. Lieberman
Sen. Obama
On Passage of the Bill (H.R. 833 As Amended)
2/2/00
Y
-
N
Y
N
Y
-

Sen. Obama and Sen. Clinton had not yet been elected to the Senate at the time. However, we know a little bit about Sen. Clinton's position at the time - and it is fair to say she opposed this Bill and previous versions of it. As this blog entry at the NYT points out:

As first lady, Mrs. Clinton worked against the bill. She helped kill one version of it, then another version passed, which her husband vetoed.

It's worth reiterating the last point since it pertains to the 2000 Bankruptcy Bill:

President Clinton vetoed legislation Tuesday that proposed the most sweeping changes in the bankruptcy law in 20 years because he said it was unfair to ordinary debtors and working families who fall on hard times.
...
By leaving the Bankruptcy Reform Act of 2000 unsigned, the president issued a "pocket veto," the fourth indirect veto of his administration. By waiting until the lame-duck congressional session adjourned before vetoing it, he deprived lawmakers of the chance to override the veto.

In summary, prior to 2001, Sen. Biden and Sen. Edwards were on the wrong side of this issue whereas Senator Dodd and Senator Clinton were on the right side of this issue.


2. 2001 Bankruptcy Bill

The Senate again took up the Bankruptcy Bill in 2001 and leading Democrats made multiple attempts to amend it. This CNN article gives you a sense for what happened with this 2001 Bill (it passed 83-15) - however, this Bill never made it into Law because the House and Senate versions had not been reconciled prior to 9/11, and after 9/11 Congress put off this Bill for a while.

The table below provides a summary of how the top Democratic Senators running for President voted on the Bill and its amendments. In summary:

  • Sen. Dodd (and Sen. Feingold) had the best voting record on this version of the Bill. They voted the progressive position on almost every amendment, but more importantly, also voted against cloture (which has the effect of supporting a filibuster) and voted against the Bill at the end.
  • Sen. Clinton's record on this Bill was mixed. Her record is marred by the fact that she voted for the final version of the Bill - she has provided some limited explanations (for her vote) which critics don't consider convincing. However, she voted against cloture (which has the effect of supporting a filibuster) and supported almost all the progressive amendments to the Bill. In other words, she gains points for trying to prevent the Bill from moving forward without a number of key amendments but loses points for supporting the amended Bill in the end.
  • Sen. Edwards (and Sen. Lieberman) had a bad record on this Bill. Both of them voted in favor of a number of progressive amendments but both voted to invoke cloture (and thereby end debate/prevent a filibuster) on the Bill and then voted in favor of the final Bill. Hence, Sen. Edwards' record on the 2001 Bill was worse than Senator Clinton's.
  • Sen. Biden's record on this Bill was awful. He not only voted for cloture and voted for the final Bill, he voted to oppose many key progressive amendments to the Bill.
Senate
Roll Call #
Vote
Sen. Biden
Sen. Clinton
Sen. Dodd
Sen. Edwards
Sen. Feingold
Sen. Lieberman
Sen. Obama

Wellstone Amendment 14: To create an exemption
for certain debtors that can demonstrate to the satisfaction
of the court that the reason for the filing was a result
of debts incurred through medical expenses.
3/7/01

N
Y
Y
N
Y
Y
-
On the Motion to Table Leahy Amendment No. 13 - To
provide small business creditors priority over larger
businesses relating to distribution of the bankruptcy estate.
3/7/01
Y
N
N
N
N
Y
-
On the Motion to Table Durbin Amendment No. 17 - To
make an amendment with respect to predatory lending
practices, and for other purposes
3/8/01
N
N
N
N
N
N
-

On the Motion to Table Kerry Amendment No. 26 - To
strike certain provisions relating to small businesses, and
for other purposes
3/8/01

Y
N
N
N
N
N
-

On the Motion to Table Feinstein Amendment No. 27 - To
make an amendment with respect to extensions of credit to
underage consumer (i.e., capping credit to minors).
3/13/01

Y
N
N
N
N
N
-

On the Motion to Table Kennedy Amendment No. 39 - To
remove the dollar limitation on retirement savings protected
in bankruptcy.
3/13/01

Y
N
N
N
N
N
-

On the Motion to Waive CBA re: Conrad Amendment
No. 29 - To establish an off-budget lockbox to
strengthen Social Security and Medicare.
3/13/01

Y
Y
Y
Y
Y
Y
-
On the Motion to Waive CBA re: Sessions Amendment No. 32 -
To establish a procedure to safeguard the surpluses of the Social
Security and Medicare hospital insurance trust funds.
3/13/01
N
N
N
N
N
N
-
On the Motion to Table Schumer Amendment No. 25 -
To make an amendment with respect to the preservation of
claims and defenses upon the sale or transfer of a
predatory loan.
3/13/01
N
N
N
N
N
N
-
On the Motion to Table Dodd Amendment No. 75 - To
amend the Truth in Lending Act with respect to extensions
of credit to consumers under the age of 21.
3/13/01
N
N
N
N
Y
N
-
On the Motion to Table Wyden Amendment No. 78
- To provide for the nondischargeability of debts arising from
the exchange of electric energy.
3/14/01
N
Y
Y
Y
Y
Y
-
On the Motion to Table Durbin Amendment No. 93
- To provide a complete substitute (bill)
3/14/01
Y
N
N
N
N
Y
-
On the Motion to Table Wellstone Amendment No. 36 -
To disallow certain claims and prohibit coercive debt
collection practices.
3/14/01
N
N
N
N
N
N
-
On the Motion to Invoke Cloture on S.420
(the Bankruptcy Bill)
3/14/01
Y
N
N
Y
N
Y
-

On the Motion to Table Kohl Amendment No. 68 - To
limit the value of certain real and personal property
that a debtor may elect to exempt under State or
local law, and for other purposes.
3/15/01

N
N
N
N
N
N
-
On the Leahy Amendment No. 14 - To protect the
identities of minor children in bankruptcy proceedings
3/15/01
Y
Y
Y
Y
Y
Y
-
On the Leahy Amendment No. 19 - To correct the
treatment of certain spousal income for purposes of
means testing
3/15/01
Y
Y
Y
Y
Y
Y
-
On the Wellstone Amendment No. 70 - To change the
relevant time period in determining current monthly
income.
3/15/01
N
Y
Y
N
Y
N
-
On the Wellstone Amendment. No. 71 - To address
the acceptable period of time between the filing of
petitions for relief under chapter 12 of title 11,
United States Code
3/15/01
N
Y
Y
Y
Y
Y
-

On the Feingold Amendment No. 51 - To strike section
1310, relating to barring certain foreign judgments
3/15/01

Y
Y
Y
Y
Y
Y
-
On Passage of the Bill S.420, As Amended
3/15/01
Y
Y
N
Y
N
Y
-

3. 2005 Bankruptcy Bill

Congress finally took up the Bankruptcy Bill after the 2004 elections when Republicans had consolidated their majority in Congress and Bush returned to the White House. The 2005 version was arguably the most egregious - and even led some conservatives to condemn its draconian provisions. It was pushed through Congress by a strong, conscience-less GOP majority, aided by some unprincipled Democrats. The table below summarizes the voting records of the Senators in question. In summary:

  • Senator Dodd again had the best, and an essentially perfect, voting record on this Bill. He voted in favor of numerous progressive amendments, voted against invoking cloture and voted against the final Bill.
  • Senators Obama, Feingold and Clinton had almost equally good voting records on this Bill.
    • Sen. Obama voted against one progressive amendment ("To limit the amount of interest that can be charged on any extension of credit to 30 percent."), but in favor of others and he voted against invoking cloture and voted against the final Bill.
    • Senator Clinton also had an almost perfect record and voted against invoking cloture but missed the final day of voting (March 10, 2005) because she was in hospital due to President Clinton's heart surgery. She indicated that she opposed passage of the Bill and that she would have voted against it if she had been present. On balance, I am inclined to give her benefit of doubt, just like I'm inclined to give Sen. Edwards benefit of doubt for his position on the 2005 bill (see below).
    • NOTE: Senator Feingold had an almost perfect record on this Bill but missed one day of voting (March 3, 2005).
  • Senator Edwards was NOT in the Senate when this Bill was considered in Congress - but he acknowledged his past mistake(s) of supporting the Bankruptcy bill and came out against the 2005 bill in a guest post on Talkingpointsmemo.
  • Sen. Biden continued his egregious support for the Bill - he voted against many progressive amendments, voted to invoke cloture and voted for the final Bill. Among all the 2008 Democratic Presidential candidates who are recent or current Senators, his voting record on the Bankruptcy Bill is noticeably awful and appalling.
  • NOTE: Sen. Lieberman supported all the progressive amendments to the 2005 Bill and voted against the final Bill but he voted to invoke cloture and helped prevent a filibuster of this Bill.
Senate
Roll Call #
Vote
Sen. Biden
Sen. Clinton
Sen. Dodd
Sen. Edwards
Sen. Feingold
Sen. Lieberman
Sen. Obama

On the Sessions Amendment No. 23 - To clarify
the safe harbor with respect to debtors who have
serious medical conditions or who have been called
or ordered to active duty in the Armed Forces and
low income veterans.
3/1/05

Y
N
N
-
N
N
N
On the Durbin Amendment No. 16 - To protect
servicemembers and veterans from means testing in
bankruptcy, to disallow certain claims by lenders
charging usurious interest rates to servicemembers,
and to allow servicemembers to exempt property
based on the law of the State of their premilitary
residence.
3/1/05
N
Y
Y
-
Y
Y
Y
On the Feingold Amendment No. 17 - To provide a
homestead floor for the elderly
3/2/05
N
Y
Y
-
Y
Y
Y
On the Akaka Amendment No. 15 - To require
enhanced disclosure to consumers regarding the
consequences of making only minimum required
payments in the repayment of credit card debt,
and for other purposes.
3/2/05
N
Y
Y
-
Y
Y
Y
On the Kennedy Amendment No. 28 - To
exempt debtors whose financial problems were
caused by serious medical problems from
means testing.
3/2/05
N
Y
n-v
-
Y
Y
Y
On the Kennedy Amendment No. 29 - To provide
protection for medical debt homeowners
3/2/05
n-v
Y
Y
-
Y
Y
Y
On the Corzine Amendment No. 32 - To preserve
existing bankruptcy protections for individuals
experiencing economic distress as caregivers
to ill or disabled family members
3/2/05
n-v
Y
Y
-
Y
Y
Y
On the Dayton Amendment No. 31 - To limit
the amount of interest that can be charged on
any extension of credit to 30 percent.
3/3/05
N
Y
Y
-
n-v
Y
N
On the Nelson (FL) Amendment No. 37 - To
exempt debtors from means testing if their
financial problems were caused by identity theft.
3/3/05
N
Y
Y
-
n-v
Y
Y
On the Durbin Amendment No. 38 - To
discourage predatory lending practices.
3/3/05
N
Y
Y
-
n-v
Y
Y
On the Schumer Amendment No. 42 - To limit
the exemption for asset protection trusts.
3/3/05
Y
Y
Y
-
n-v
Y
Y
On the Rockefeller Amendment No. 24 - To
amend the wage priority provision and to amend
the payment of insurance benefits to retirees.
3/3/05
N
Y
Y
-
n-v
Y
Y

On the Durbin Amendment No. 49 - To
protect employees and retirees from corporate
practices that deprive them of their earnings
and retirement savings when a business
files for bankruptcy.
3/3/05

Y
Y
Y
-
n-v
Y
Y
On the Kennedy Amendment No. 44 - To
amend the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 to
provide for an increase in the Federal minimum
wage.
3/7/05
Y
Y
Y
-
Y
Y
Y
On the Santorum Amendment No. 128 - To
promote job creation, family time, and small
business preservation in the adjustment of the
Federal minimum wage.
3/7/05
N
N
N
-
N
N
N
On the Schumer Amendment No. 47 - To
prohibit the discharge, in bankruptcy, of a debt
resulting from the debtor's unlawful interference
with the provision of lawful goods or services or
damage to property used to provide lawful
goods or services.
3/8/05
Y
Y
Y
-
Y
Y
Y
On the Motion To Invoke Cloture On Bill S. 256
3/8/05
Y
N
N
-
N
Y
N
On the Feingold Amendment No. 89 - To
strike certain small business related bankruptcy
provisions in the bill.
3/8/05
N
Y
Y
-
Y
Y
Y

On the Durbin Amendment No. 110 - To
clarify that the means test does not apply
to debtors below median income.
3/9/05

Y
Y
Y
-
Y
Y
Y

On the Harkin Amendment No. 66 - To
increase the accrual period for the employee
wage priority in bankruptcy.
3/9/05

Y
Y
Y
-
Y
Y
Y

On the Boxer Amendment No. 62 - To provide
for the potential disallowance of certain claims
(if based on extension of credit to certain minors).
3/9/05

Y
Y
Y
-
Y
Y
Y

On the Dodd Amendment No. 67 - To
modify the bill to protect families, and for
other purposes
3/9/05

N
Y
Y
-
Y
Y
Y

On the Kennedy Amendment No. 68 - To
provide a maximum amount for a homestead
exemption under State law.
3/9/05

Y
Y
Y
-
Y
Y
Y

On the Kennedy Amendment No. 70 - To
exempt debtors whose financial problems
were caused by failure to receive alimony or
child support, or both, from means testing.
3/10/05

N
n-v
Y
-
Y
Y
Y
On the Kennedy Amendment No. 69 - To
amend the definition of current monthly income
3/10/05
Y
n-v
Y
-
Y
Y
Y
On the Akaka Amendment No. 105 - To limit
claims in bankruptcy by certain unsecured
creditors.
3/10/05
N
n-v
Y
-
Y
Y
Y
On the Leahy Amendment No. 83 - To modify
the definition of disinterested person in the
Bankruptcy Code.
3/10/05
Y
n-v
Y
-
Y
Y
Y

On the Durbin Amendment No. 112 - To
protect disabled veterans from means testing in
bankruptcy under certain circumstances.
3/10/05

Y
n-v
Y
-
Y
Y
Y

On the Schumer Amendment No. 129 - To
limit the exemption for asset protection
trusts.
3/10/05

Y
n-v
Y
-
Y
Y
Y
On the Talent Amendment No. 121 - To deter
corporate fraud and prevent the abuse of State
self-settled trust law.
3/10/05
Y
n-v
Y
-
N
N
N
On Passage of the Bill S. 256 As Amended
3/10/05
Y
n-v
N
-
N
N
N

4. Conclusions

In this post, I compared the voting records of key Democratic Presidential candidates on the topic of the Bankruptcy Bill. I reviewed the final vote on the Bankruptcy Bill of 2000, and the final vote and amendments/motions associated with the 2001 and 2005 Bankruptcy bills. The main findings are as follows:

1. Senator Chris Dodd has the best, and a near-perfect, voting record on Bankruptcy legislation. He has been consistently and strongly progressive on the topic of Bankruptcy "reform" at least since 2000.

2. Senator Hillary Clinton had a very good record pre-2001 when she (and her husband) helped defeat earlier versions of the Bankruptcy bill. Her record was mixed in 2001 - she voted for the final version of the Bill [she has provided some limited explanations (for her vote) which critics don't consider convincing], but voted against cloture (which has the effect of supporting a filibuster) and supported almost all the progressive amendments to the 2001 Bill. In 2005, she again voted against cloture and supported most of the progressive amendments to the 2005 Bill, but she missed the final day of voting because she was in hospital due to her husband's heart surgery. She has stated that she would have also voted against the final version of the 2005 Bill if she had been present; on balance, I am inclined to give her benefit of doubt on this (just as I am inclined to give Sen. Edwards benefit of doubt on the 2005 Bill).

3. Senator Barack Obama was not in the Senate until 2005 and his record on the 2005 Bankruptcy Bill is overall very good since he voted in favor of most progressive amendments, against invoking cloture and against the final Bill. However, he voted against one key progressive amendment. It is hard for me to judge how he might have voted on the bill in 2000 or 2001.

4. Senator John Edwards had a poor record on the Bankruptcy Bill when he was in the Senate. Although he voted in favor of several progressive amendments to the 2001 Bill, he voted in favor of the 2000 Bill and the 2001 Bill and also voted in favor of cloture (against a filibuster) on the 2001 Bill. By 2005, he had changed his mind and admitted that it was wrong for him to have voted the way he did in prior years - he came out strongly in opposition to the 2005 Bill.

5. Senator Joe Biden's record on the Bankruptcy Bill is consistently awful and appalling for a Democrat. He repeatedly voted for the Bankruptcy Bill (in 2000, 2001, 2005), repeatedly voted for cloture (in 2001 and 2005) and repeatedly voted against several progressive amendments.

As an interesting sidenote, Sen. Joe Lieberman's voting record is slightly worse than that of Sen. Edwards because Sen. Lieberman also voted in favor of cloture and helped prevent a filibuster of the 2005 bill. However, his record on thi

eriposte :: 6:32 AM :: Comments (6) :: Digg It!