Consumer Bankruptcy Journal Spring 2015 - Page 6

LEGISLATIVE REPORT By Maureen Thompson NACBA Legislative Director T he 114th Congress officially kicked off in January 2015, with Republicans in control of both the House and the Senate for the first time in nearly a decade. The 2014 midterm elections brought a total of 74 freshman lawmakers to the House and Senate, with Republicans holding a 54-46 majority in the Senate and the GOP enjoying its biggest majority in the House since 1929. The change in Senate control shifted the chairmanship of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which oversees the bankruptcy system, to Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), with Senator Patrick Leahy (DVT) as Ranking Member. The House Judiciary Committee remains under the leadership of Chairman Robert Goodlatte (R-VA) and Ranking Member John Conyers (D-MI). NACBA’s Legislative Committee and D.C. based staff remain in close contact with these key members and their staff. With the new Congress will come a markedly different political dynamic in Washington compared to the first six years of the Obama Administration. After years of a divided Congress and subsequent legislative gridlock, Congressional Republicans are eager to use their new majorities in Congress to prove their ability to span beyond being the “party of no.” While any broad legislative proposals will be subject to President Obama’s veto authority, newly installed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has outlined his strategy of using the appropriations process to advance GOP priorities, including further rollbacks of the DoddFrank financial reform law. 6 CONSUMER BANKRUPTCY JOURNAL Meanwhile, Senator Harry Reid (DNV), now Senate Minority Leader, will continue to lead his caucus and hope to draw policy and political contrasts from his Republican counterparts. Though Democrats are indeed in the minority and have lost the power of setting the Senate’s agenda, NACBA is particularly pleased at Reid’s appointment of longtime ally Senator Elizabeth Warren to the newly created role of strategic policy adviser to the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee. From this leadership position, Senator Warren will offer a progressive voice in helping to craft the party’s policy positions and priorities. NACBA is thrilled that Senator Warren will be empowered to lend her particular bankruptcy expertise to issues such as financial regulation, economic inequality, and student loan reform. As far as NACBA’s legislative priorities are concerned, we will of course continue to push for a fair and effective bankruptcy system in the 114th Congress. As bankruptcy attorneys well know, the credit industry succeeded in making the bankruptcy process more expensive and cumbersome for financially vulnerable consumers. We anticipate that creditors may be emboldened to seek additional changes now that will have a bigger voice in the Republican-controlled Congress. NACBA will monitor such efforts closely and continue to fight for a consumer’s right to a restructure their finances and get back on their feet. NACBA will also continue its advocacy for student loan borrowers’ rights to access the bankruptcy system. With the country’s collective $1.2 trillion in Spring 2015 student loan debt a leading financial obstacle for the tens of millions of American consumers who owe it, NACBA and its allies continue to highlight how this debt poses serious consequences on the health of the broader economy. Many student loan borrowers go on to repay their debts and make a strong return on their investment in a college education, but for the growing number of American students who run into trouble repaying their loans, perhaps due to illness, job loss, injury, divorce, or other hardship, there are few options for relief. As NACBA members know all too well, those student loan borrowers in severe enough overall financial distress to be considering bankruptcy do not even have its promise of a fair, fresh start when it comes to their student loan debt. With growing acknowledgement of the student loan debt crisis bolstering our efforts, NACBA will continue to advocate for student loan borrowers’ rights to access the bankruptcy system. Above all else, the shakeup in Congress means that NACBA and its membership must work adamantly to introduce the organization and its priorities to new members of Congress. We do this through engaging lawmakers and their staff in Washington D.C., and at home. A key component of this work will be NACBA’s 2015 Hill Day at Home, launching March 30th, 2015. We encourage NACBA all members to sign up and participate in this year’s event, which enables participants to hold meetings with their Senators and Representatives in Congress to discuss bankruptcy, student loans, and other pressing matters. National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys