Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Bankruptcy Bill Watered Down, Still Fiercely Opposed By Banks

From Huffington

After weeks of negotiations between Senate Democrats and major players in the financial industry, a compromise bankruptcy reform deal has been reached, Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said on the Senate floor Monday night. Whether it will pull 60 votes, the number needed to overcome a GOP filibuster, is a question that will be answered later this week when the Senate takes up Durbin's amendment to the House-passed bankruptcy bill.

In order to garner the support of conservative Democrats and a few Republicans, the proposal has been watered down. The bankruptcy legislation will still allow homeowners to renegotiate mortgages in bankruptcy - the so-called cram down provision - but only under strict conditions. The banking industry has lobbied fiercely against cram down, but Durbin said on the Senate floor Monday night that the compromise was supported by Citigroup, which has been at the negotiating table.

"In the past, some of my colleagues understood the need for action but have been uncomfortable with the original language. Let me be clear: this amendment is different," said Durbin. "The amendment I'm going to offer will make a modest change in the bankruptcy code with a lot of conditions. It won't apply across the board. This amendment limits assistance in bankruptcy to situations where lenders are so intransigent that they are unwilling to cooperate with the foreclosure prevention efforts already underway - Obama's homeowner assistance and stability plan and the Congressionally-created HOPE For Homeowners, which this bill will greatly improve."

If banks refuse to take part in either of those programs, which allow homeowners to renegotiate mortgages under certain conditions, then a bankruptcy judge would be able to reduce a homeowner's monthly payment.

Durbin didn't release any further details. The compromise, which he said is also supported by the Center for Responsible Lending, AARP and the Leadership Council on Civil Rights, is being shared with wavering members and staff leading up to the vote.

Meanwhile, the banking lobbyists are furiously lobbying against it and Durbin acknowledges it will be difficult to "muster the votes, although I know it will be hard."

It is "hard to imagine that today the mortgage bankers would have clout in this chamber but they do," said Durbin. "They have a lot of friends still here. They're still big players on the American political scene and they have said to their friends, stay away from this legislation."

While Citigroup, Bank of America, Wells Fargo and other major banks were negotiating with Durbin and his allies, the major bank lobbies were whipping up opposition to it.

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