Targeting the Little Guy
By Alan Nathan
The Washington Times / March 30, 2005

Under the Shakespearean maxim of "though all things foul would wear the brows of grace, yet grace must still look so," we have an avoidable tragedy of our own taking place in Washington. In America today, there's intense debate over individual responsibility falling prey to reliance on government when personal welfare becomes vulnerable to the elements of life.

Conservatives stress that government shouldn't be the all-encompassing fail-safe into which it has evolved; Democrats argue that as a community of citizens, it's collectively incumbent upon all of us to rescue those at greatest risk. Sadly, when each side reaches for its respective ideal, neither cares about the cruelty that would befall everyone if subjected to their ultimate wish. At these times we become more thankful to the Founding Fathers whose acumen favored us with the Constitution's protective checks and balances.

One example is with the Bankruptcy Reform Bill of 2005 and its partly valid aim to stop irresponsible characters from generating billions in debt while leaving others to hold the bag.

Understandably, large companies evoke little sympathy as injured parties, yet when they lose tremendous amounts of capital this triggers higher interest rates, lost revenue and job cuts. Add to this the casualties of smaller family owned businesses providing most of our country's employment, and you're left with an aggregate consequence endangering the financial welfare of millions of households.

Some Democrats crying foul were inexcusably determined to block every single move. One strategy was an amendment pre-empting pro-life extremists from filing bankruptcy claims that include court-ordered fines for disruptive protests too close to abortion clinics. On its own, such a law would have had merit. However on this occasion, it was simply a "poison pill" serving no constructive purpose. While successful a few years earlier, it didn't work this go-around.

On the other end of the stupidity-spectrum, the Republican political doctors in the Senate furnished us with a cure more dangerous than the disease. Financed by the credit card and retail industries, the GOPand 40 percent of the Democrats voted 74-25 to structure a law that abandons families crushed by medical costs or military displacement. If your 8-year-old daughter is hit by an uninsured motorist that generates hospital bills rivaling the budgets of most small towns -- oh well. If you were a once-gainfully employed man in the private sector who, as a National Guardsman, is called upon to risk it all for your country at 30 percent less pay and such commitment fiscally ruins your family -- thanks for the sacrifice, now give us more. But here's the truly inspiring part: While they're telling individual citizens to be more responsible with their debt through these newly tightened rules, the eligibility guidelines permitting corporate bankruptcy protection remains unchanged. It appears that this avenue of tough love is very much a one-way street.

Donald Trump's casino went belly up and his company was able to file for Chapter 11 protection with a $1.3 billion debt. Soon afterward, his stock went up and he sophistically bragged about the event as an exercise in creative restructuring. Under this legislation, should the House concur and the president sign it into law, Mr. Trump's creditors still cannot touch him -- but as a creditor he can now more aggressively touch us.

Congress and the corporate world have exposed themselves as duplicitous because little examination of this double standard is required before seeing that their actions are in direct conflict with the principles they espouse. If you're going to hold buyers more responsible for their debts, why give a pass to some just because they happen to be buyers who sell? Why not allow similar latitude to folks who serve or to those vanquished by medical expenses not of their making?

Earlier in March, there was a measure to help these genuine victims but it was rejected. The Senate voted 59-41 against an amendment that would have provided specific and binding exemptions for these Americans. Surreptitiously, senators camouflaged their disregard under the cloak of a "judicial discretion" clause that allows for judges to make exceptions on a case-by-case basis -- but this provides no obligatory guarantee. Simply put, you can lose more than your ass if there's one on the bench.



Alan Nathan, combative centrist, columnist, speaker and the nationally syndicated host of "Battle Line With Alan Nathan" on the Radio America Network.

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