The U.S. Senate has started debate on a bankruptcy overhaul bill which Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley has been trying to pass for more than a decade. Grassley’s bill would make it harder for Americans, especially the rich, to erase their debts by filing for bankruptcy, but he stresses, it won’t stop those who legitimately have to declare. Grassley says people who are in financial trouble through no fault of their own will still be able to declare bankruptcy and get a “fresh start,” though he says there will be a lot of “propaganda” saying the opposite is true. Critics say some take advantage of bankruptcy laws and the bill creates a sort of test to determine which kind of bankruptcy protection someone may qualify for. Bankruptcy judges would be forced to more closely examine an applicant’s income and expenses to determine whether they have the ability to pay some of their debts. Grassley, a republican, says too many people are “gaming” the system. He says “They are going into bankruptcy and then you and I are picking up the bills for their ability to repay but unwillingness to repay.” He says those “who have the ability to repay some of their debt don’t get off scot-free.” The bill seeks to close a loophole that allowed some people who filed for bankruptcy to keep their mansions and it also seeks to prevent people from filing for bankruptcy to avoid paying child support or spousal support. The bill also makes permanent a temporary part of bankruptcy law protection for family farmers. Grassley says Senator Ted Kennedy, a democrat from Massachusetts, may play a Congressional “game” of attaching an amendment to raise the minimum wage to the bankruptcy bill in an effort to kill it. Grassley says “I hope we can stop him from doing it because there is a legitimacy for bringing up the minimum wage bill but it ought to be brought up in an environment where it’s judged on its own merits and not riding along on some bill unrelated to it.” Republican Senator Rick Santorum, facing a tough re-election campaign in Pennsylvania, is also expected to introduce an amendment to the bankruptcy bill that would raise the minimum wage by a buck-15 an hour. That would bring the federal minimum wage to six-dollars-25 cents an hour. Democrats hope to raise the rate a dollar higher — to seven-25 an hour. The national minimum wage has not been raised since 1997 and today stands at five-15 an hour.
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