Financial weapon of mass destruction

Rosemary Shahan is president of the Sacramento-based Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety

Shortly before bombs began to burst over Baghdad, Congress began an assault of a different sort—on the home front. Congress’ actions could devastate families already reeling from layoffs and a sinking economy here at home, including the economically vulnerable families of enlisted military personnel.

As you will recall, Congress has failed to pass anything remotely resembling national health-care coverage, to rein in the skyrocketing price of prescription drugs or to stem the rising tide of layoffs triggered by wave after wave of corporate scandals. With personal bankruptcies hitting a record high in 2002 and Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan cautioning that consumers are experiencing significant financial crises, what does Congress rush to enact?

Why, the credit industry’s bill to tighten the screws on families on the verge of bankruptcy! What impeccable timing. Never mind the fact that economists proclaim that consumers, who continue to dig themselves deeper into debt following the highly publicized advice of our commander in chief to get out and spend, are the only bright spot on the economic horizon. With consumer spending accounting for two-thirds of the U.S. economy, whom did Congress decide to protect? Big banks!

Sacramento’s U.S. Representative, Bob Matsui, stood up to the credit industry, but, alas, Representative Mike Thompson, who represents California’s First District, ignominiously capitulated. Thompson did the bidding of bankers, over the frantic objections of religious, labor, consumer and seniors’ organizations that adamantly oppose the measure. He voted with the Republican majority to enact what his colleague, Representative Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., condemned as a sellout to credit-card companies. You know, the companies that continue with reckless abandon to bombard consumers with offers of easy credit (the diabolically punitive terms cleverly concealed in microscopic print and masked in jargon that would make an accountant weep).

The credit industry has been salivating over the prospect of this bill’s passage for more than seven years. Former President Clinton vetoed an earlier version in far sunnier economic times. But President Bush has signaled an eagerness to sign this financial “weapon of mass destruction.”

If you are as hot under the collar as I am, please contact California’s Senator Dianne Feinstein and urge her to show some gumption and vote “No” on the Senate version of H.R. 975. Our shockingly underpaid troops, their families, and civilians who have been laid off (who have lost medical coverage and face skyrocketing medical costs) deserve better.