WASHINGTON - To Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., it would have been a "layer of protection for taxpayers."
To Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., it was "a mistake" that he "had not read carefully."
Thursday's showdown came over Bachmann's proposal to restrict mortgage counseling funds for ACORN, a community group that was at the center of Republican allegations of voter-registration fraud in the 2008 presidential election.
That the proposal even made it to the floor of the Democratic-controlled House was an embarrassment that Frank had to admit. "I am asking for your help in correcting a mistake that I made," he said in a letter to fellow Democrats on Tuesday.
Frank, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, ultimately prevailed -- but only after a testy debate that took the unusual turn of Frank asking the House speaker to instruct Bachmann to stop interrupting him.
The "Bachmann amendment" died on a 245-176 vote. Democrats say it would have weakened their signature legislation cracking down on predatory lending practices in the residential mortgage industry.
Among the provisions: a measure by Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., giving renters 90 days' notice before they can be tossed out of a house in foreclosure.
The bill, which beefs up weak credit standards that some see as a key factor in the current mortgage crisis, also sets aside $140 million for counseling and legal assistance grants.
Bachmann's proposal would have barred any group from applying for the grants if the organization or any of its employees was facing charges for voter fraud or tax violations.
She cited congressional testimony and news reports of ACORN workers who have been under investigation in several states for various tax and voter fraud violations, including seven ACORN employees who were charged Thursday with forgery and election law violations in Pittsburgh.
Spokesmen for ACORN say no criminal charges have been brought against the organization's leaders. In the Pittsburgh case, prosecutors say it appears workers were submitting fake or doctored voter registration forms in order to be paid their daily $40 wage from the group.
Frank said Bachmann's proposal could expose any community group to potential prosecutorial misconduct.
"I don't want to live in a society where the mere institution of an investigation by any prosecutor anywhere shuts down lawful activity," he said.
Under Frank's remedy, which the House adopted, a group would be barred from getting grants only upon the conviction of an official or employee. To do otherwise, Frank said, would be to abandon the principle of innocent until proven guilty.
"That's not what this is about," countered Bachmann. "Decisions on criminal guilt will remain in the capable hands of a jury of peers. ... We have a fiduciary duty to the taxpayers."
The mortgage bill was approved later Thursday, 300 to 114, with 60 Republicans joining 240 Democrats. Prospects in the Senate are uncertain.
Democrats say the bill would crack down on lenders who originate loans to borrowers who are unlikely to pay them off.
"The mortgage lending industry has been subject to insufficient regulation and little oversight for far too long," Ellison said. "The reforms in this landmark legislation would address the predatory mortgage practices that are root causes of our current financial crisis."
The bill requires banks to verify a person's credit history and income and make a good-faith effort to determine whether the person can repay the money.
Many Republicans -- including Bachmann and fellow Minnesotans John Kline and Eric Paulsen -- voted against the bill, saying it would limit consumers' options and make it tougher to get credit.
Kevin Diaz • 202-408-2753