Wholly Bankrupt


Who’s the most compassionate conservative of them all? So tough to decide:

When Congress agreed this spring to tighten the bankruptcy laws and crack down on consumers who took on debt irresponsibly, no one had the victims of Hurricane Katrina in mind.

But four weeks after New Orleans flooded and tens of thousands of other residents of the Gulf Coast also lost their homes and livelihoods, a stricter new personal bankruptcy law scheduled to take effect on Oct. 17 is likely to deliver another blow to those dislocated by the storm.

The law was intended to keep individuals from taking on debts they had no intention of paying off. But many once-solvent Katrina victims are likely to be caught up in the net intended to catch deadbeats.

House Republicans say they see “no reason” to carve out an exemption in the law for Katrina victims. In a way, that makes sense. Once you allow that the bankruptcy law is unfair for those who, through no fault of their own, had all their worldly possessions ripped to shreds by a hurricane, then you also have to allow that the bankruptcy bill is unfair for an uninsured women who blows all her savings to treat cancer, and you have to allow that it’s unfair for a man who gets hit by a car and loses his job. There’s a reason why House Republicans are having such difficulty with this debate: Once you admit that a relatively predictable hurricane constitutes an event that requires government relief, you also have to admit that lots of human beings endure lots of unexpected accidents and disasters throughout their lives that also require relief, or bankruptcy leniency, or what have you.

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