The Pitt News (U. Pittsburgh)

(U-WIRE) PITTSBURGH ? Campaign contributions to politicians from the banking and credit card industries last year: $31 million. Amount spent by industry lobbyists in support of the Bankruptcy Reform Bill: $12 to $20 million. Buying legislation that allows you to exploit your customers, especially college students: Priceless.

You may or may not already be aware that both the House of Representatives and the Senate recently passed a significant piece of legislation called the Bankruptcy Reform Bill.

Under this new set of laws, people filing for bankruptcy who earn more than the median income in their state will have to file under Chapter 13 bankruptcy ? which entails having to repay a large part of their debt ? rather than Chapter 7, which means getting a clean start.

Furthermore, their debts will have to be repaid under a plan that makes payment of credit card bills equal to paying child support or alimony. Bill Clinton vetoed a similar bill last year, but ? surprise, surprise ? President George W. Bush has already indicated that he will sign the new bill into law.

Little people

?The big guys are going to win and the little people are going to get smashed … no question about it. [The bill] is a wish list for the credit card industry and a nightmare for vulnerable families and vulnerable citizens,? said one of the Bankruptcy Reform Bill?s most ardent critics, Democratic Senator Paul Wellstone of Minnesota.

This bill is not just bad news for vulnerable families and citizens but for Americans in general. Bankruptcy is a serious problem in our country ? more than one million people file for it every year.

Three-quarters of these people are middle-class citizens ? in fact, one half of them earn less than $23,000 a year ? who are forced into bankruptcy not because of their reckless or uncontrollable spending habits, but because of extenuating circumstances such as family illness, divorce or job loss.

College students

These new laws are especially bad news for college students. A recent survey by the Consumer Federation of America revealed how widespread credit cards are on college campuses.

Seven out of every 10 undergraduates have one, and it can be hard for students with little or no income to stay out of debt ? a whopping one in five student credit card holders carries a debt of more than $10,000.

Even more troubling is the way this legislation was passed. The credit card industry lobbied hard by giving millions of dollars during the last election to Bush and members of Congress. In fact, MBNA Corp. of Delaware, one of the largest credit card issuers in the world, was Bush?s largest corporate donor. Furthermore, MBNA?s bank unit chairman was one of Bush?s principal fund-raisers.

The corporation also gave $100,000 to his inaugural committee. MBNA stands to gain a staggering amount of money ? an extra $75 million per year ? if this bill becomes law.

Marketing tactics

As if this weren?t bad enough, there are the marketing tactics of the credit card industry. The industry markets itself very aggressively to college students and consumers in general ? just think of the people you see giving away T-shirts and phone cards. Last year, banks and credit card companies mailed 3.3 billion credit card solicitations and extended $3 trillion in credit ? up 17 percent from 1999.

I think Larry Nobel of the Center for Responsive Politics summed up the situation best when he said, ?It is clear that the industry wanted this bankruptcy legislation. They saw an avenue to get it, and they bought and paid for it. Interestingly, they didn?t buy it on credit.

They paid cash up front for it in terms of campaign contributions.?

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