As the debate over the financial modernization package entered its final, sensitive stages, it came close to being derailed by disagreements over the 22-year-old Community Reinvestment Act.

When the bill stalled late Thursday, people on both sides of the debate were expressing frustration and bewilderment about the CRA factor. Before the ultimate compromise took shape, Phil Gramm, the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, went to bat for a significant rollback of the neighborhood lending law, with other Republicans supporting him against the Clinton administration's staunch resistance.

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