Budget bills are always messy, and this year's effort is no exception. But given the fact that Republicans are looking to make $2 trillion of spending cuts over the next seven years, the banking industry appears to be getting off easy.
The spending blueprints approved by the House and Senate budget panels don't call for any new taxes, and big-ticket items important to financial institutions - such as the mortgage interest deduction - appear safe for now.
What has people worried, though, is the huge size of the task that the Republican Congress has set for itself- more than a trillion dollars of deficit reduction by the year 2002.
In the past, legislators have talked about cutting billions, even tens of billions at a clip. A trillion dollars, though, is a different matter. A trillion dollars means that almost anything could be on the table.
Like taxes on credit unions. Thus far, the credit union industry's sizable grass-roots operation has been able to beat down talk of a tax without breaking a sweat. However, the next few years could be different, industry representatives say.
"I'm pretty worried about it," said Charles O. Zuver, chief lobbyist for the Credit Union National Association. "There's a big need for revenue, and that makes me nervous."
In addition, the House Banking Committee, which will be called upon to find the spending cuts and revenue increases called for in the budget bill, has only a few places to look for money.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development is one source of money; federal credit unions are another. There aren't many besides those, and that concerns Mr. Zuver.
Of course, bankers would dearly love to see credit unions taxed, and the industry's lobbyists expressed some optimism this week that the member- owned cooperatives might soon lose their special status.
But bankers are probably being overly optimistic on that score, and Mr. Zuver is probably showing undue pessimism. With more than a trillion dollars needed to balance the budget, a tax on credit unions would bring in less than $1 billion a year. That's a drop in the bucket, and legislators are unlikely to risk the wrath of CUNA's armies to add just one more drop to the anti-deficit bucket.
Other programs important to the financial services industry face modest cuts, or fee increases. Of particular concern to bankers are the loan- guarantee programs run by the Small Business Administration.
"Everybody recognizes that the SBA programs are going to change," said Edward L. Yingling, chief lobbyist for the American Bankers Association. "The guarantee portion is going down, and fees are going up."
However, even that news isn't so bad. The Clinton administration had already proposed making the SBA's mainstay 7(a) lending program pay for itself, and it also was planning to reduce loan guarantees and raise fees.
Student lending is another matter. Here, the budget process may actually help lenders, though it may hurt their borrowers. Mr. Yingling, for one, hopes that Congress will cap the Clinton administration's direct-lending program, preserving a market for banks.
On the other hand, students will probably end up paying interest on their loans while still in school - and that could mean some students will not be able to afford the loans. On balance, though, banks may still come out ahead.
Most important, the budget resolution may set the stage for a tax bill this year, and that could be a vehicle for a short industry wish list, including liberalized eligibility requirements for the Individual Retirement Account.
"We want an expansion of the IRA," said Jim O'Connor, tax lobbyist for the Savings and Community Bankers of America.
Mr. O'Connor is skeptical about prospects for a tax bill, and others are, too. But that shouldn't bother too many people in the industry.
In a budget that promises pain for nearly every man, woman, and child, the banking and financial services industry comes out pretty much untouched.