WASHINGTON -- The powerful senior citizens lobby is protesting the interstate branching bill, but its influence may be offset by a a group of 10 key Democrats who are urging quick floor action.

"We're very disappointed that there aren't any consumer protections in the bill," said Kent Brunette, legislative representative for the American Association of Retired Persons. "Offering basic banking services and government check cashing could come at a modest price for bankers."

Mr. Brunette said his group is considering sending a letter to Capitol Hill urging delay. "We're going to see how things look when Congress comes back from recess on Sept. 12," he said.

The head of steam behind the bill was augmented late last week when 10 of the Senate Banking Committee's 11 Democrats wrote Majority Leader George Mitchell urging him to schedule floor time for the measure "as soon as possible after recess."

Despite AARP's political muscle, the lobby will be hardpressed to overcome the momentum the measure has now gathered, according to Edward L. Yingling, chief lobbyist for the American Bankers Association.

"The AARP constituency consists of Democrats, and the letter has 10 Democrats, including some liberal members, asking that the bill be brought up," said Mr. Yingling. "That undermines the AARP letter. I don't think it will have a whole lot of effect."

AARP has long voiced concerns that the measure will foster the development of decentralized national "megabanks."

"Interstate has potential to create megainstitutions that may not be responsive to local communities," Mr. Brunette said. "We're afraid that banks are going to forget the deposit needs of local communities, and we see a very logical connection between this and the bill."

Most industry sources seem confident the bill will pass before Congress adjourns this year. However, some are concerned that Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Tex., could still tie up the measure in an effort to remove a House provision that bars banks in Texas from making home equity loans.

Nonetheless, the clock seems to be the overriding concern for all who are pushing the interstate bill.

"We're working very, very hard with all the senators to make sure it is brought up early," said Mr. Yingling. "Chances are still good for the bill, but we are concerned that there is just very little time left."

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