For all the years in which Democrats ruled Capitol Hill, bank lobbyists looked to the Republican minority to save them from what they saw as the excesses of liberal policy. So it's strange that with Republicans now in control, bankers are beginning to look upon the GOP as the enemy.
"The general feeling among bankers is one of great disappointment in what the Republican Congress is doing," said Edward L. Yingling, chief lobbyist for the American Bankers Association.
Bankers, Mr. Yingling said, are unhappy with any number of Republican actions, from a proposed moratorium on bank insurance powers to a decision to drop CRA relief from a pending regulatory relief bill.
But on Capitol Hill, Republicans see things much differently. Congressional aides argue that bankers are being short-sighted in not recognizing how good a deal they have with the new order.
It's true, said one Republican aide, that Rep. Gerald Solomon, chairman of the House Rules Committee, has been a determined supporter of the insurance agents and their drive for a moratorium on bank powers.
"But that's only one issue," said the aide. "He would be an equally zealous advocate for banks" on virtually any other issue that comes up.
Bankers may not like the moratorium, he added, but it shouldn't be allowed to disrupt a relationship that has benefited the industry greatly in the past and which could be even more important in the future.
To understand just how meaningful the shift in power on Capitol Hill is for the banking industry, this aide said, bankers should take note of ameeting two weeks ago in which banking policy was discussed by the entire Republican leadership.
"It was historic," said the aide, who was present at the meeting. "You had the speaker, the majority leader, the chairman of the Rules Committee, talking for a half-hour about banking policy. I don't think that would have happened with Democrats."
A number of industry lobbyists agree.
"I don't know anyone who has been working in this town who wouldn't agree that things have changed," said an industry lobbyist who happens to have close Democratic ties.
"It's like night and day," he added. "With the Democrats, you had to labor mightily just to get an audience. People now are much more willing to be helpful."
Clearly, though, there is a growing gap in perceptions between ABA members and congressional Republicans. If the ABA is unhappy with the proposed insurance moratorium, then some congressional Republicans believe the trade group hasn't tried hard enough to bring Republican lobbyists aboard.
After the 1992 presidential election, the ABA very publicly hired on two high-profile Democratic lobbyists, including former party chairman Charles T. Manatt. In the wake of the historic 1994 election, the ABA quietly signed two Republican lobbyists - neither as well known as Mr. Manatt - and gave a plum position to a defeated Democratic member of Congress.
On the other hand, bankers enjoyed one of their best years ever in 1994, when Democrats controlled both the White House and both houses of Congress. From interstate branching to regulatory relief, Democrats handed the industry one victory after another - and didn't exact a price, as Republicans are seeking to do in tying Glass-Steagall repeal to the insurance moratorium.
Still, bankers have a lot to lose if their relationship with Congressional Republicans is disrupted.
The majority party is, of course, a focal point for any interest group. But Republicans were crucial to the banking industry even when they were in the minority.
For years, bankers relied on a coalition of Republicans and moderate Democrats to advance their agenda. Most of those moderate Democrats hail from the South, and they are rapidly being replaced with conservative Republicans - one reason the GOP has an opportunity to retain control of Congress for some years to come.
The banking industry is a natural constituency for the Republican party, and disputes born of legislative battles have a way of patching themselves up. But a number of congressional aides and their bosses think they are being taken for granted - and that's something they may not soon forget.