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Inside Politics
Inside Politics

Big week for big business

By Bill Schneider
CNN Political Unit

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• Bush signs class-action bill
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(CNN) -- Big business has been winning big in Washington this year -- including the biggest prize of all.

Calvin Coolidge once said, "The chief business of the American people is business.''

Business has certainly been the chief business of the Congress this year.

Business-supported measures usually pass the House, but this year they've made it through the Senate as well.

"We've had great results in the business community with the passage of class action and with bankruptcy reform," said Peter Lawson, director of Congressional and Public Affairs in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The class action bill moves large-scale consumer lawsuits into federal courts, where judges have been more sympathetic to business. It passed the Senate 72 to 26 last month.

"Before today, trial lawyers were able to drag defendants from all over the country into sympathetic local courts, even if those businesses have done nothing wrong," President Bush said when he signed the bill into law.

The bankruptcy bill would make it harder for people who go bankrupt to erase their debts. It passed the Senate 74 to 25 this week.

"You want to put your finger on special interests? Just look at what's happeneing in the United States Senate at this moment," Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Massachusetts, said Wednesday.

But the vote was pretty decisive.

"To listen to the opposition, you would think that this legislation was supported by a small minority of representatives in the House of Representatives, or in the Senate. Nothing could be further from the truth," Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said.

Nineteen Democratic senators -- that's more than 40 percent of Senate Democrats -- voted for the bankruptcy bill. Eighteen Democrats voted for the class action bill last month.

"These bills have been out there for the better part of a decade and they have undergone numerous compromises," Lawson said.

So why the sudden rush to act now? The big items on the Senate agenda this year are Social Security and judicial nominations. Those issues are likely to shove everything else aside.

"We certainly felt it was important to take some of these issues that have been around for a long time and to try to get them worked through the Senate before some of these tough issues might possibly tie up the Senate," Lawson said.

So business got what it wanted fast. That's smart timing.

It's also way before next year's midterm election -- plenty of time for angry consumers to get over it.


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