Senate Banking Committee Chairman Alfonse M. D'Amato on Thursday said legislation restructuring the financial services industry could be enacted this year.
"The opportunity may yet arise for Senate action this year, depending on the success of House efforts to produce a bill," the New York Republican said in a statement.
Sen. D'Amato's upbeat prediction reversed his grim forecast Monday that Congress would not have time to act on sweeping reform until next year.
The blockbuster Citicorp-Travelers merger, he said, makes it imperative that lawmakers and Clinton administration officials reach a deal on a bill to overhaul the nation's financial laws.
"Obviously, the proposed merger highlights the reason why we can no longer afford to allow piecemeal deregulation of an industry that is so important to our economy's health and vitality," he said.
Sen. D'Amato also said he called Treasury Secretary Robert E. Rubin on Wednesday to urge him to support the financial reform bill in the House.
"We agreed to continue working together," Sen. D'Amato said.
Treasury Department officials pledged to meet with Senate Banking Committee members to discuss their concerns that the House bill would unfairly curb national bank powers. But a Treasury spokesman said Thursday, "We don't have any current intentions to drop those objections."
House Banking Committee Chairman Jim Leach said he was encouraged by Sen. D'Amato's remarks. "We had always been operating under the hope and expectation that if the House passes a bill, the Senate would take it up this year," said a spokesman for the Iowa Republican.
House Republican leaders were forced to withdraw the controversial reform bill from the floor March 31 after a failed bid to link it to a popular credit union bill. A Clinton veto threat helped torpedo the effort. After the embarrassing defeat, Republican leaders pledged to bring a revamped bill to the floor in early May.