WASHINGTON — The battle for the chairmanship of the House Banking Committee will get serious Wednesday, when the challengers are scheduled to make their case in private, 30-minute interviews with a 25-member steering committee headed by Republican leaders.

Based on seniority, the front-runner for the top seat being vacated by Chairman Jim Leach is Rep. Marge Roukema, R-N.J. First elected 20 years ago, Rep. Roukema is the longest-serving woman in the House and chairwoman of the financial institutions subcommittee. Her primary challenger is Rep. Richard Baker, R-La., who has been in Congress 14 years and heads the capital markets subcommittee.

A dark horse is Rep. Michael G. Oxley, R-Ohio, who was scheduled to be interviewed todayfor the top spot on the House Commerce Committee.

To reward Rep. Oxley if he loses that job to Rep. W.J. “Billy” Tauzin, R-La., GOP leaders have considered transferring the jurisdiction of Commerce’s finance subcommittee to House Banking and making him chairman of the full panel. But Rep. Tauzin opposes giving up Commerce’s jurisdiction over the subcommittee.

In legislative business, current House and Senate Banking Committee leaders met Monday to try to jump-start a House-passed package of industry-related bills.

One provision would give Federal Reserve Board officials pay hikes. Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan would get the biggest boost — $15,700 a year, to $157,000, the same pay Cabinet secretaries receive. The other Fed governors would get raises of $11,100, to $141,300.

The legislation would also give the Fed permission to expand its office space by buying a third building here.

The package also contains roughly 20 regulatory relief provisions, authority to reinstate a number of federal banking regulatory reports to Congress, and mortgage lending-related measures, one of which would create low-cost mortgages for teachers and other municipal employees.

It also extends a deadline for new capital rules at the 12 Federal Home Loan Banks by six months, to May 2001.

The negotiations are focused mainly on the lost-down payment mortgage measure for municipal workers, which Senate Banking Chairman Phil Gramm opposes.

Meanwhile, the Senate was scheduled to convene today, and Majority Leader Trent Lott’s office reportedly has indicated the Senate could consider a tax-cut package and legislation to overhaul bankruptcy laws as early as this week.

Though Sen. Lott may take procedural steps to advance the bankruptcy bill, the industry-backed measure faces an uphill climb. Even if Sen. Lott is successful in readying the legislation for a vote, its enactment could be doomed by a White House veto.

Uncertainty also hangs over the prospects of the tax package, which contains provisions sought by the financial services industry, including raising contribution limits to Individual Retirement Accounts and 401(k) programs.

The package would also let banks pay interest on commercial checking accounts starting in 2002, and expand sweep accounts in the interim.

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