Senate Banking Committee Chairman Phil Gramm received an unsolicited house call from community activists on Sunday.
Armed with banners, colored leaflets, and an effigy, several hundred members of National People's Action showed up at the Texas Republican's home here to protest provisions of his financial modernization bill that would scale back the Community Reinvestment Act.
"Sen. Gramm ignores our invitations," said protester Aggie Brose, deputy director of the Pittsburgh Community Reinvestment Group. "All he wants to do is stand up there and put in the Congressional Record that we're 'extortionists'-and here's a man who just took (millions) from folks that are lobbying the bill."
"But for CRA," she added, "we would not have one buyer for the houses we have done in my neighborhood."
Sen. Gramm was at home when the group visited, but declined to answer the door. He called the police, who broke up the crowd. A local television crew later filmed him picking up green and yellow fliers strewn about his lawn.
"If this is an effort to intimidate the chairman and the Banking Committee, his message is it's not going to work," a spokeswoman for Sen. Gramm said. She called accusations that he is trying to dismantle CRA "horsehockey."
National People's Action, a Chicago-based coalition of groups from 38 states, is furious that amendments to the Gramm bill would exempt small, rural banks from CRA requirements and make it harder for groups to successfully challenge proposed mergers or branch closings if a bank has at least a "satisfactory" CRA rating. The vast majority of banks and thrifts meet that test.
Group members said that, if anything, CRA should be expanded in exchange for letting banking companies move into insurance, securities, and other businesses not allowed under current law.
Members staged an unrelated protest Sunday at the home of Labor Department Secretary Alexis Herman. In past years the group has protested at the homes of Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, Senate Banking Committee Member Richard C. Shelby, and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Andrew Cuomo.
"The point is to get the person into negotiations," a National People's Action spokeswoman said. "They get upset, but they sit down and have a conversation with you the next day."