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House approves terrorism insurance bill

Bankruptcy legislation fails

From Ted Barrett
CNN Washington Bureau

House Speaker Dennis Hastert
House Speaker Dennis Hastert

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Congress struggled Friday to clear its legislative docket after a late night in which the House approved a terrorism insurance bill and killed bankruptcy reform legislation.

That second measure failed largely because of a controversial abortion provision.

In the Senate, meanwhile, debate continued on legislation creating a Department of Homeland Security.

In the House, conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats led the fight against the bankruptcy bill, voting 243-172 Thursday evening against the rule for debate. That procedural move meant the bill itself couldn't come to the floor for a vote.

A spokesman for House Speaker Dennis Hastert said the bill will not be brought up again this year and it is not clear whether supporters would redraft the language in the next Congress.

Conservatives who oppose abortion were against the bill because it would have prevented people who are arrested while protesting at abortion clinics from declaring bankruptcy in order to avoid paying criminal fines. That provision was inserted by Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York.

Liberal Democrats opposed the bill, which had the backing of the banking and credit card industry, because they said it would make it harder for debt-ridden consumers to seek protection against their creditors.

This is only the second time in Hastert's four-year tenure as speaker that a GOP-backed rule has been defeated.

In other action, the House late Thursday passed a bill to provide relief to insurance companies that could be forced into bankruptcy by paying out claims in the event of another large terrorist attack against the United States.

President Bush made the bill a cornerstone of his economic recovery plan and fought hard to overcome objections of conservative Republicans, who wanted the bill to include language banning punitive damage awards in lawsuits stemming from terrorist actions -- except in suits against the terrorists themselves.

"We're not going to support the trial lawyers over the hard hats," an aide to Rep. Tom Delay, R-Texas, the newly elected majority leader, warned before the vote.

But DeLay dropped his objections after winning White House assurances that the matter would be addressed in new legislation in the next Congress, when Republicans will control both chambers.

A bill authorizing increased spending for the nation's intelligence agencies also passed in the House after an 11th-hour compromise was reached to create an independent commission to investigate failures before the September 11 terrorist attacks.

The House also passed a port security bill and extensions of welfare and unemployment benefits due to expire at the end of the year.

The Senate is expected to act on those bills Friday and next week.

House Republican leaders held open the possibility of returning to work to deal with any changes the Senate might make to the bills but said they hoped they would not have to return until early January.

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