Barack Obama proposes to change bankruptcy laws to help those in need

Barack Obama on Tuesday proposed changing bankruptcy laws to "fast-track" the process for military families, help seniors keep their homes, and protect people recovering from natural disasters.

The Democratic presidential hopeful also accused Republican rival John McCain of repeatedly siding with the banking industry, saying, "When it comes to strengthening the safety net for hardworking families, he's been part of the problem, not part of the solution."

Both candidates are in the midst of weeklong efforts devoted to the economy, the top concern of voters four months before the election as gas prices and job layoffs rise while the credit crisis and housing crunch continue. Each senator is trying to portray himself as most in tune with the needs of a middle class that's smarting from tenuous economic times - and the other as out of touch.

It was in that vein that Obama castigated McCain - and sought to link him to the unpopular President George W. Bush - as he announced his fresh proposals in remarks prepared for delivery in this city outside of Atlanta.

"Like the president he hopes to succeed, Sen. McCain does not believe the government has a real role to play in protecting Americans from unscrupulous lending practices," Obama said. "He would continue to allow the banks and credit card companies to tilt the playing field in their favor, at the expense of hardworking Americans."

Obama's campaign pointed to a series of Senate votes in 2005 to accuse McCain of "siding with banking industry lobbyists" while opposing measures that the Democrat's campaign said would have helped families struggling to pay medical bills, seniors in bankruptcy fighting to keep their homes, and victims of Hurricane Katrina.

To contrast himself with that record, Obama laid out new proposals that supplement his broader - and previously announced - bankruptcy reform agenda that includes changes intended to help people in financial distress because of medical bills and allow homeowners going through the bankruptcy process - especially seniors - to renegotiates terms of their mortgages.

The Democrat said he also would help service members and military families struggling financially after multiple moves, lengthy deployments and, in some cases, predatory lenders, saying, "If you're protecting America, America should be protecting you from unfair bankruptcy laws."