WASHINGTON - House Banking Committee Chairman Jim Leach says community reinvestment is a bank's patriotic duty.

Politicians and interest groups have long relied on patriotism to advocate greater defense spending or to push for investigations into allegedly subversive activities. But now the powerful Iowa Republican is adding community reinvestment to the list.

"Particularly because support for federal programs is declining, it is imperative that public policy makers and private actors work together to establish a new ethic of American patriotism," Rep. Leach said Wednesday at Social Compact's annual ceremony to recognize innovative bank reinvestment programs.

"The question of whether our society can hang together is at issue," he added. "So is our free-market system. Community financial institutions have no responsible choice except to step into the breach."

Rep. Leach said this focus on community reinvestment is especially important because the country's challenges in coming years will come from within.

"It is self-evident that the most effective way of protecting American democracy is to strengthen American communities," he said. "No neighborhood can be left out."

Those words were music to the ears of John Taylor, president of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition.

"He's on the mark," Mr. Taylor said. "But he should recognize that patriotism sometimes requires self-motivated initiative and at other times it requires government-stimulated initiative."

That means Congress should leave the Community Reinvestment Act alone, Mr. Taylor said.

Rep. Leach wouldn't go quite that far. While he pledged not to repeal the 1977 law, he said lawmakers should consider modifying it.

The banking panel chairman did not specify what changes he would like to see. But Republicans have introduced measures in the House and Senate to shield top-scoring banks from CRA protests and to exempt small banks from the law altogether.

Federal Reserve Board Governor Lawrence B. Lindsey, who joined Rep. Leach in a panel discussion, said the new CRA rules should foster the sense of patriotism and community of which Rep. Leach spoke.

Mr. Lindsey also said policymakers must put more faith in the public.

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