Tuesday, April 26, 2005


By Debra J. Saunders
Washington Times 04-13-05

(Note: This article was written by an avid Republican and published by one of the most right wing newpapers in the country. Have the Bushies gone too far? Thanks to friend Joe for forwarding this article to me. It gives me hope to see an article in which a Republican disagrees with Bush, and that the article is showing up in a right-wing paper such as the Washington Times. Also, for those who didn't notice the byline, the article was written by Debra J. Saunders, not by Snave! 8-)> )

The bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act passed by the Senate last month illustrates once again it is easier to pass a bad bill in Washington than it is to pass a good one. Make no mistake about it. This is a bad bill — which is why the House, no doubt, will pass this bill this week and why President Bush, to his discredit, will sign it. The bill would make it harder for debtors to file for bankruptcy under Chapter 7, and push more debtors — it targets those who earn more than a state's median income — into Chapter 13, which has tougher repayment standards. That sounds fair enough, except the Senate wasn't interested in making banks act more responsibly by dispensing with venal lending practices, such as lending money to people who have just filed bankruptcy and enticing college students with easy credit.

Consider this: The Senate rejected a measure to cap credit-card interest rates at 30 percent. Now, I ask, why should Washington want to protect lenders, who charge desperate people as much as 36 percent in per annum interest?

The lending lobby — Big Borrow-mongers — claims it needs protections against deadbeats, who file for bankruptcy without even trying to pay off their debts. I would sympathize.... if the money lenders weren't so rapacious — shameless, really — about fleecing the poor.

The National Consumer Law Center argues consumers often want to pay off their debt, but can't keep up with lenders' late fees, penalties and exorbitant interest. The center cited the tale of Ruth Owens of Ohio. By the time Miss Owens stopped using her credit card for purchases in 1997, she had racked up a balance of $1,963. Over the next six years, she made $3,492 in payments, but not a dime went to pay off the principal. Thanks to a 21 percent interest rate, fees of $1,518 for exceeding her credit limit and $1,160 in late fees, Miss Owens paid the bank all that money and still owed a whopping $5,564.

As the Law Center noted, Miss Owens would have been better off if she had become a deadbeat in 1997 — if she had simply stopped paying her credit-card bill until the bank sicced a collection agency on her — instead of honestly trying to pay off her debt. Rather than helping her to work out the debt, the bank simply drove her deeper into the hole.

When last I wrote on this bill, arguing the federal government shouldn't bail out banks for their own bad lending practices, I received a number of e-mails from people in the credit business who agreed with me. A minority of those in the business who e-mailed me complained that the very folks who criticize the financial-services industry for gouging poor lenders would be kicking the industry if it did not lend to the urban poor. They have a point: Consumer advocates do push banks to loan money to the often-overlooked urban poor so they can buy first homes and start their own businesses.

That said, I have yet to hear any consumer advocate say banks should charge the poor predatory interest — up to 36 percent — as well as exorbitant late fees and over-limit penalties.
In fact, the industry's woes suggest Washington should make it easier to file for bankruptcy, to protect the banks from themselves. Consumer Federation of America's legislative director Travis Plunkett said, lenders "have it within their power to control the bankruptcy rates by controlling their practices."

As a Republican, it disappoints me to say this, but I understand why people call the GOP the party of big business. When Washington pushes for more responsibility among debtors, but not loan-shark-like lenders, when its "ownership society" principles don't make big corporations own up to their role in the bankruptcy problem, the GOP is toadying to big business. (Ditto the 18 Democrats and one independent senator who voted for the bill.)

Everyone expects the House to pass the bill. Mr. Plunkett said some House members are having second thoughts, but they figure there is no percentage in voting no and displeasing a political contributing class. They figure, "Why anger the credit industry when they know they're going to lose?"

Well, there is a reason to anger the credit industry — to represent your constituents. If readers want the House to kill this turkey, they should let their congressional representative know they oppose this bill. This bad bill probably will pass anyway, but citizens who care about good government and good business practices should at least make those who vote for the measure sweat.

Snave adds: I read this article and I have to wonder... How much do our politicians *really* represent their constituents? And isn't this a question that goes beyond left versus right?


Blogger Sheryl said...

To borrow from Gecko's new motif, the word for the day is usury. :(

3:51 AM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

I used to read Debra Saunders' column when I lived near San Francisco (she writes for the Chronicle). She's conservative but sometimes she has an attack of common sense. She writes periodically about the war on drugs, even names names: So-and-so is serving 30 years for being the brother-in-law of the person whose car was used in a drug deal, etc.

12:12 PM  

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