$56 million ÷ 74

Fifty-five Republicans. Eighteen Democrats. One independent. That is the current roster of shame in the U.S. Senate, the roll call of senators who just voted for the so-called bankruptcy “reform” bill in a gesture of gratitude to the banks and credit-card companies that have been so generous in their donations to politicians.

It’s an artful bill, written to grind the poor mercilessly while allowing the very wealthy to keep most of what they own in the event of a calamitous financial setback. If you’re a long-haul trucker who gets sick and is driven to penury by medical costs, there is no protection for you, but if you are a millionaire or a corporation, you won’t be inconvenienced in the slightest by this “reform.”

The bill greenlights predatory lending practices and strengthens the ability of corporations to turn their customers into indentured servants to the very institutions that suckered them into high interest rates and insanely high credit-card limits in the first place. The “compassionate conservatism” and Bible-bolstered hypocrisy of many of our politicians thus endorses usury, a practice much condemned in the Good Book and specifically frowned upon by Jesus, who acted out his displeasure in that notable fit of pique when he drove the money changers from the temple.

Are you a college kid with a maxed-out credit card, paying an interest rate of 32 percent? You are now a wholly owned subsidiary of the company that enticed you into signing up for that card.

Or, if your income dives because you’ve been called up for active National Guard duty, and if that distraction buries you in debt, and if you miss a payment and the credit-card companies jack up your interest rate to 36 percent, there’s no escape route for you, because that band of politicians put your interests way behind the interests of the credit-card companies. The largest of those, by the way, enjoyed a 28-percent profit margin last year.

Once the bill clears the low hurdle of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, President George W. Bush says he’ll sign it into law. Imported champagne will flow freely in the offices of D.C. lobbyists and in the wood-paneled management offices on Wall Street, but the beer money is going to be scarce for the working poor, for the kinds of people serving in the National Guard, and for students scrambling to get started with their lives.

Banking institutions, credit-card companies and retail merchants gave more than $56 million to political parties and candidates in the 2004 elections, most of it to Republicans. Not a single Republican voted against the bill. The consistency of our politicians is a thing of beauty; when they’re bought, they stay bought.

Looking for the problem with U.S. politics? Just divide $56 million by 74 senators, and you’ll have your answer.