Bank Bill Seen Facing More Delays

SAN FRANCISCO -- A key Senate Banking Committee aide said the Bush administration's banking reform bill will not reach the Senate floor until November at the earliest, reducing the likelihood for enactment this year of a comprehensive bank bill.

Raymond Natter, the committee's Republican general counsel, said the Senate leadership had not been able to provide a firm date for floor action on the legislation, which the panel passed in July.

"They said certainly not in October," Mr. Natter commented during a panel discussion on Sunday at the American Bankers Association's national convention.

Long Debates out of Season

Any delay in bringing the reform bill to a vote makes it less likely that Congress will enact a far-reaching banking package this year. With floor time becoming increasingly scarce as the 1991 session moves toward its close, the leadership is hesitant to consider bills that are likely to provoke long debate.

Also, any Senate bill would have to be reconciled with a House bill that is still being shaped by several committees.

The uncertainty over Senate scheduling reflects in part the sharp divisions that remain among banking committee members.

Bones of Contention Rattle

"A lot of amendments" were decided by close votes, Mr. Natter said. "So there will be some contentious issues" when the bill is taken up by the full Senate.

Congress could remain in session until just before Christmas, although there will be pressure from members to adjourn before that.

Rep. Richard Lehmanm, D-Calif., said he expects Congress to break by Thanksgiving. Mr. Lehman is a former House Banking Committee member who currently serves on the Energy and Commerce Committee.

He dismissed rumors that his party's leadership wants to stay in Washington until late in the year so as to avoid yielding the political stage to the White House.

"We all want to get out," Rep. Lehman said.

Mr. Natter said the Senate may want to tackle the issue of regulatory agency restructuring. Both the House and Senate banking panels considered and abandoned efforts to streamline the regulatory agencies when they took up the administration's bill earlier this year.

"There seems to be considerable interest in putting it back in," Mr. Natter said.

The most likely action on the Senate floor would be to merge the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Office of Thrift Supervision, a step that appeals to both agencies and a number of lawmakers.

The sticky point comes over the status of the new agency that would be created. Sen. Donald W. Riegle, D-Mich., chairman of the Banking Committee, wants the agency to be independent of executive branch control as is the Federal Reserve Board.

But the Bush administration wants the new agency to be housed in the Treasury Department, as are the Comptroller and OTS.

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