Lessons For Progressives
Evan Augustine Peterson III, J.D.
Christmas came early this year for credit-card corporations, courtesy of Capitol Hill. After an eight-year multimillion dollar lobbying effort by financial-industry giants, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed their heinous "Debt Slavery" Bankruptcy Bill (S. 256/H.R. 685) last week by a lopsided 302-126 vote.
Members of the House briefly debated this important matter before they voted.
However, the speeches on both sides tended to be surprisingly simplistic, given the complexity of the bankruptcy bill, largely because the Republican majority leadership chose to display their contempt for democratic processes by:
- disallowing votes on the 35 amendments the Democrats had proposed;
- ordering the House Rules Committee to allocate only one hour -- far too little time -- for substantive debate on this complicated 500-page bill; and
- ordering the House moderator to rudely interrupt every Democratic speaker when they lined up one-by-one to register their objections to the bill in brief biting statements.
When the shallow-but-acrimonious debate ended, 229 Republicans (98.7%) and 73 Democrats (36.1%) supported the bill by voting "yes," whereas no Republicans(0%) and 125 Democrats (62%) opposed the bill by voting "no." Additionally, three Republicans (1.3%) and four Democrats (1.9%) abstained. 
The Senate passed the same bill in March by an equally lopsided vote of 74-25, with Senator Hillary Clinton abstaining. And Mr. Bush signed it on April 20th, so it will become this nation's federal bankruptcy law six months from enactment. 
What's It All About, Progressives?
Progressives are understandably discouraged because our nationwide grassroots lobbying effort against this bill was, for the most part, ignored by Capitol Hill. Indeed, this latest in a long series of legislative defeats has caused the American progressive coalition to ask itself why Republicans are so united, and Democrats so disunited.
The likeliest answer is that Congressional Republicans lack freedom of conscience. They slavishly adhere to the instructions of their party's neocon leaders because they fear political retribution from both the White House and their Religious-Right extremist base if they vote their conscience. 
Of course, another distinct possibility is that the Republican majority simply does not care about the socioeconomic interests of the beleaguered middle and the downtrodden lower classes.
Contrastingly, Congressional Democrats lack accountability. They feel free to vote howsoever they please because they know they WON'T be held accountable by their party's rightward-drifting "centrist" leaders or their Democratic base. Hence, neither party promotes representative democracy; instead, they both promote a bribe-ocracy that is dominated by moneyed special interests -- like the financial industry.
Democrats.com President Bob Fertik said: "We must ask: Where was [House Minority Leader] Nancy Pelosi before today? Why did [House] Minority Whip Steny Hoyer support this outrageous bill? Why did Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid even try to take credit for this Republican bill? And why did 'New Democrats' Ellen Tauscher, Ron Kind, Artur Davis, and Joe Crowley push this bill on their colleagues? What party do they imagine they belong to? Who do they think elected them to Congress?" 
These questions are worth considering! If our Congressional Minority Leaders and "New Democrats" are Democrats In Name Only ("DINOs"), why do their seemingly-clueless Democratic constituents continue to re-elect them? 
Progressive Democrats of America Executive Director Tim Carpenter wants more political accountability: "We will remember who voted against the Democratic base. Those 73 House Democrats and 18 Senate Democrats have a year in which to try to make up for this. It's hard to see how they'll be able to do it, but we'll be watching and remembering, and we'll be ready to promote challengers in 2006."
And NOW President Kim Gandy said of the Republicans: "Once again George W.Bush and his Congressional enablers have rewarded their corporate allies at the expense of low- and middle-income working people, single mothers, minorities, veterans and the elderly. This bill further shreds the safety net for even the most financially troubled people. It is a reckless move for Congress to squeeze families in economic and health crises while providing loopholes for corporate executives to skirt their debts. These payouts to big business must stop immediately." 
Two Overarching Conclusions: Morally Bankrupt And Deeply Divided.
First, the lopsided House and Senate votes favoring this bill -- 302-126 and 74-25, respectively -- were tantamount to a Congressional declaration of MORAL BANKRUPTCY. Why? Sadly, "money talks and social justice walks" inside the Capitol Hill bribe-ocracy.
Our Congresspersons knew full well that they were allowing the financial industry's predatory lending practices to continue unabated, and yet sharply limiting individual access to debt-liquidating personal bankruptcies. That might be the correct formula for winning political support from the financial industry, but it's certainly not the politics of social justice!
They knew that the foreseeable social consequences of this bankruptcy bill over time will be that millions of financially desperate Americans will either commit suicide because they cannot see any way out of debt slavery, or be forced into the homeless underground, or commence a life of crime. These socially-destructive consequences are the real legacy of supposedly "compassionate" conservatives' bankruptcy bill. 
Second, their votes on the bankruptcy bill provide a microcosmic view of what Congress has become concerning domestic issues -- A HOUSE DIVIDED AGAINST
- The 70% majority is a Corporatist Greed Uniparty, consisting of Slavish Drone Republicans and Spineless Collaborator Democrats, who support Social Darwinist Dubya's top-down class warfare on behalf of the few filthy-rich "have-mores."
- The 30% minority is a Socioeconomic Solidarity Party, consisting of Progressive Democrats and Independents, who defend the besieged interests of the many just-barely-hanging-on "haves" and downtrodden "have-nots." 
The Bottom Line: Political Accountability Is A Moral Value.
The philosopher Santayana correctly warned that "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." If Democrats really want their party's behavior to advance the interests of everyday Americans rather than the elite corporate bribe-ocrats, we must hold our Representatives and Senators personally accountable for every vote they cast in favor of this terrible bankruptcy bill. 
And that requires us to collectively remember the bitter taste of this defeat long enough to REMOVE those Spineless Collaborator Democrats and Slavish Drone Republicans from office in 2006. Folks, we should REPLACE them with principled populist progressives -- not silver-spoon "centrist" plutocrats -- who will respond to our nationwide grassroots lobbying efforts. 
In short, remember the Debt-Slavery Bankruptcy Bill!
 A. Every U.S. Representative's 4-14-05 vote on the bankruptcy bill is tallied here, with the Democrats listed in italics: http://tinyurl.com/8dbhv
B. Every U.S. Senator's 3-10-05 vote on the bankruptcy bill is listed here: http://tinyurl.com/adxxp
 Read these excellent articles and essays to learn more about the regressive social impact of the credit-card industry's unconscionably one-sided bankruptcy bill:
A. Rob Hotakainan's 4-15-05 CD/MST article, "Erasing Debts In Bankruptcy To Get Harder" [Reports on debate in the House on the "Debt Slavery" Bankruptcy Bill, and lists by name the 73 turncoat Democrats who joined the greed-driven Republicans in voting for this bill.]: http://tinyurl.com/9jook
B. Marcy Gordon's 4-15-05 CHB article, "Congress Passes Stricter Bankruptcy Law" [A crucial deadline looms a half-year away for thousands of anxious Americans weighed down by credit card and other debt following Congressional passage of a measure that makes it significantly tougher to erase indebtedness in personal bankruptcy.]: http://tinyurl.com/a9blt
C. Evan Augustine Peterson III's 4-12-05 TPV essay, "Last Chance To Defeat Debt Slavery: House Will Vote On Unjust Bankruptcy Bill This Thursday" [U.S.Representatives and Senators who voted for the Republicans' regressive bankruptcy bill unwisely ignored the huge avalanche of opposing phone calls and e-mails that were generated by our nationwide grassroots lobbying effort.]: http://tinyurl.com/4a8av
D. Debra Saunders' 4-10-05 SFC essay, "Bankruptcy Bill Or Welfare For Usurers?" [This Republican columnist was not fooled by her party's so-called bankruptcy "reform" bill, and offered sound reasons for opposing it.]: http://tinyurl.com/brdn6
E. David Sirota's 4-5-05 TP article, "So You Support Usury, Senator?" [The House is getting ready to debate the Republican's phony bankruptcy "reform" bill, but Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has introduced another House bill, entitled the "Loan Shark Prevention Act," which is designed to limit usurious interest rates and prevent other unconscionable abuses by commercial banks and credit-card companies.]: http://tinyurl.com/74ddb
F. Marilyn Gardner's 4-4-05 CSM article, "Bankruptcy Reform Hits Women Hard" [Reports that the credit industry-authored bankruptcy bill will have a disproportionately negative impact on American women, which means it also will harm children.]: http://tinyurl.com/dp8x2
G. Evan Augustine Peterson III's 4-1-05 OJ essay, "Defeat Bush's Social-Darwinist Agenda Now: Regressive Bankruptcy Bill Will Hit Poorest Hardest" [Social-Darwinist Dubya's "Debt-Slavery" Bankruptcy Bill is the poison-tipped spear he'll use to finish off the financially wounded during his vicious top-down class warfare against the middle and lower classes.]: http://tinyurl.com/d6z56
H. Michael Negron's 3-31-05 TP exposé, "Talking Points Memo: The $2 Million Dollar Flip-Flop" [Shows us how the sleazy credit industry's "campaign donations" bought off 18 US Senators so they would vote against an amendment to the phony bankruptcy "reform" bill, which would have limited interest rates to 30 PERCENT.]: http://tinyurl.com/9ra5t
I. David Swanson's 3-31-05 CD/BC essay, "Debt Slavery: What The Bankruptcy Bill Could Do To You" [A thorough explanation of the Republicans' terribly unjust bankruptcy bill, its politics, and the reasons to vote AGAINST the "Debt Slavery Act of 2005."]: http://tinyurl.com/8ghsb
J. Peter Gosselin's 3-29-05 CD/LAT article, "Judges Say Overhaul Would Weaken Bankruptcy System" [Bankruptcy judges can best evaluate the social impact of this bankruptcy bill, and they say its provisions will NOT reform, but rather DESTROY, personal bankruptcy law.]: http://tinyurl.com/3k5ed
K. The Nation's 3-25-05 CD/TN editorial, "Democrats: MIA":
L. Alan Maass' 3-19-05 CP essay, "Making Bankruptcy A Life Sentence: Washington's Bipartisan Gift To The Bankers": http://www.counterpunch.org/maass03192005.html
M. Robert Scheer's 3-15-05 CD/LAT essay, "The Bankruptcy Bill: A Tutorial In Greed": http://www.commondreams.org/views05/0315-27.htm
N. Cynthia Tucker's 3-13-05 CD/AJC essay, "Bush Cheats Those He Owes":
O. David Broder's 3-13-05 CD/ST essay, "A Bankrupt Senate Vote":
P. Matthew Rothschild's 3-13-05 CD/TP essay, "Democrats Cave On Bankruptcy Bill": http://www.commondreams.org/views05/0313-31.htm
Q. Steven Weiss' 3-14-05 CE article, "Money Talks" [Contributions from credit and finance corporations correlate with Senators' votes on the bankruptcy bill.]: http://www.capitaleye.org/inside.asp?ID=159
R. Abid Aslam's 3-12-05 CD/OW article, "Bankruptcy Bill Said To Hit Poorest Americans Hardest": http://www.commondreams.org/headlines05/0312-03.htm
S. RedState's confessional 3-11-05 TP essay, "An Embarrassed Republican" [A red-state Republican blogger laments his party's harsh bankruptcy bill by stating, among other things, that "This is on us, folks, and it's going to hurt a lot of people."]: http://tinyurl.com/cjg5s
T. Arianna Huffington's 3-10-05 CD/AO essay, "The Senate Opens Fire on U.S. Consumers": http://www.commondreams.org/views05/0310-22.htm
U. Paul Krugman's 3-9-05 TO essay "The Debt-Peonage Society":
V. Evan Augustine Peterson III's 3-9-05 TPV essay, "On Attempting To Justify The Unjustifiable With Scripture: Debt Slavery" [The Republicans' harsh bankruptcy "reform" bill is neither scripturally wise nor rationally defensible as a matter of public policy, and yet Republicans claim that their draconian revisions to the bankruptcy code somehow are morally "righteous." This claim proves false when considered from either a scriptural or an ethical perspective. Also see Sean Gonzales' related essay in endnote  below.]:
W. Kathleen Day and Caroline Mayer's 3-6-05 WP article, "Credit Card Penalties, Fees Bury Debtors: Senate Nears Action On Bankruptcy Curbs" [Reports that credit-card companies regularly engage in predatory lending practices, such as bait-and-switch tactics that result in usurious 30% to 40% interest rates and astronomical $50.00 late fees. However, the phony bankruptcy "reform" bill does absolutely NOTHING to stop these, or other, outrageous predatory practices!]: http://tinyurl.com/cqptk
X. Washington Monthly's informative 3-5-05 "Political Animal" column, "The Bankruptcy Bill" [An informative briefing about the bill and its impact.]: http://tinyurl.com/62kgv
Y. Molly Ivins' 3-3-05 CD/WFC essay, "Bad To Worse: Republicans Vote Down Military Exemption To Bankruptcy Bill, Add Loopholes For Rich": http://www.commondreams.org/views05/0303-29.htm
Z. Harvard Law School Professor Elizabeth Warren's 2-12-05 CD/MH essay, "Sick And Broke" [Cites recent studies which prove that the bankruptcy system isn't being abused. The vast majority of bankruptcy filers have suffered a job loss, an illness, or a costly divorce.]:
 Sean Gonsalves' 4-19-05 CD/CCT essay, "The Moral Bankruptcy Of Fundamentalism" [The fundamentalist Religious Right studiously ignores numerous biblical passages on social justice because they violate its idolatrous faith in unregulated laissez-faire capitalism.]:
 DebtSlavery.org and PDA's 4-14-05 joint press release "Progressive Leaders Say Bankruptcy Bill Battle Is Just The Beginning" [It's the third click-on link underneath the photo.]:http://tinyurl.com/99ov7
 This question is addressed regarding the Congressional Black Caucus in Glen Ford and Peter Gamble's 4-22-05 CD/BC essay, "Black Caucus Losing Cohesion: It's Time to Draw Some Bright Lines": http://www.commondreams.org/views05/0422-20.htm
 National Organization for Women's 4-14-05 DebtSlavery.org press release, "Bankruptcy Bill Awards Huge Payoff To Credit Card Companies" [It's the sixth click-on link underneath the photo.]: http://elandslide.org/elandslide/index.cfm?campaign=debt
 Harvard Law School Professor Elizabeth Warren's outstanding 2005 academic paper, "The Growing Threat to Middle Class Families" (download it at this URL): http://tinyurl.com/ck5oj
 Laura Donnelly's 4-21-05 TP article, "Stuck in The Middle" [Anyone who thinks the Congressional Republicans represent the socioeconomic interests of the middle class should think again! Despite more lenient grading standards than in past years, a Drum Major Institute Report found that more than 90 percent of the Republicans consistently voted against the interests of middle-class families in 2004.]: http://tinyurl.com/9hylw
 See those votes at endnote  above. Former U.S. Senator and Vice Presidential candidate John Edwards (D-NC) admitted recently that he was WRONG when he voted for an earlier version of the bankruptcy bill. He acknowledged that this bill will, indeed, have socially destructive consequences. Read Senator Edwards' 4-14-05 TPM essay, "I Was Wrong" [scroll down and you'll find it under "Guest Blogger: John Edwards"]: http://tinyurl.com/5z36v
 Thom Hartmann's must-read 4-18-05 CD essay, "How Rich Is Too Rich For Democracy?" [Insightfully answers this question: "At what point does great wealth in a few hands actually harm democracy, threatening to turn a democratic republic into an oligarchy?"]: http://www.commondreams.org/views05/0418-21.htm
About The Author:
Evan Augustine Peterson III, J.D.,
is the Executive Director of the
American Center for International Law ("ACIL").
ACIL steadfastly opposed the "Debt Slavery" Bankruptcy Bill because it would undermine Chapter 7 provisions that wisely allow desperate individuals to receive a fresh start -- which concretizes one important economic right within the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
© 2005 EAPIII