The Senate has solved half of the key puzzle on the financial reform talks-who its negotiators are-by appointing all 20 members of the Banking Committee.
Now, supporters of the long-sought legislation to remove the barriers between the banking, insurance, and securities industries are waiting for Speaker J. Dennis Hastert to decide who will represent the House. That decision-including whether the Banking Committee will constitute a majority of the House team-is expected by Tuesday.
House Banking Chairman Jim Leach said in a statement Friday that he and House Commerce Chairman Thomas J. Bliley Jr. have submitted their recommendations to Rep. Hastert.
"Hopefully they will be appointed early next week," said Rep. Leach, who is expected to be named chairman of the conference committee. "I would like to get started-the sooner the better."
Estimates on the size of the House delegation began escalating after the Senate's decision late Thursday to send 20 members. Early predictions had forecast a much smaller Senate group, ranging from five to nine members.
"What it does is slow things down and make outcomes more unpredictable," said Bert Ely, a financial services consultant in Alexandria, Va. "It is going to be a field day for lobbyists and political campaign contributions."
Enthusiasm a few weeks ago that the legislation would be enacted before the August congressional recess has virtually disappeared, replaced by more cautious predictions of enactment this fall. Senate Banking Committee Chairman Phil Gramm last week warned lobbyists to be prepared in case the bill lingers into the 2000 presidential election year.
"This thing is not going to be done until late September at the earliest," banking lobbyist Rick Hohlt said. "The momentum is with it, but it is going to have some speed bumps along the way."
It is unclear why Sen. Gramm decided to take the whole committee. It is an atypical move, but not unprecedented.
The Texas Republican said in an official statement that he chose to do so because of the complexity and historic nature of the legislation.
"Members of the Banking Committee had a key role in shaping this legislation, and their expertise will be needed as we convert it into law," Sen. Gramm said.
But many speculated that Sen. Gramm decided he has a better chance of winning on bank subsidiary powers, community reinvestment requirements, and other hot topics if the group is bigger.
"Gramm is doing this because it does strengthen his hand on the key issues," said Kenneth A. Guenther, executive vice president of the Independent Community Bankers of America. "He has stronger support when he brings all 20, rather than five."
Others disagreed, arguing that Sen. Gramm is bringing the whole committee to pacify senators and aid their fund-raising efforts.
But the larger representation probably gives Sen. Gramm more negotiating flexibility. "You are going to have a lot of horse trading," Mr. Ely said.
Speculation about the House delegation varied by the hour late last week.
One source on Friday said House leaders are leaning toward 26 conferees- 14 members from the Banking Committee and 12 from the Commerce Committee. Another veteran lobbyist said it could be 36 members split evenly between the panels.
It is possible that House Banking could have a majority of conferees on banking issues, while House Commerce would get more say on securities and insurance measures. Some estimates reached as high as 50 House conferees, which would mean a conference committee with 70 members.