WASHINGTON - Vice President Gore did not win over any bankers Wednesday by unveiling an economic plan that promised tougher enforcement of community reinvestment requirements and a crackdown on predatory lenders, and that hinted at mandatory affordable accounts.
The Democratic presidential nominee's plan reiterated strong statements that he has made throughout this year's campaign in support of the Community Reinvestment Act, privacy, and other consumer protections, and getting low-income people into the economic mainstream.
Face it, though. It is not as if Vice President Gore has much chance of scoring points with bankers, considering that the lion's share of their donations are going to his Republican opponent, Governor George W. Bush of Texas. (See related story.)
Supporters argue nevertheless that President Gore would be good for banks, particularly small ones.
A source close to the campaign said the Vice President once spent several hours reviewing the steps regulators took to streamline banking rules as a model for his efforts to deregulate, or "reinvent," government. Mr. Gore would strive to balance privacy and other consumer protections with the industry's desire to eliminate red tape, the source said.
"He's quite thoughtful about it, and quite appreciative of the need to minimize government intrusion," the source said. "My strong impression is that one particular focus of a Gore administration would be a further advancement on the reinvention front, a real effort to minimize excess on the regulatory front."
Such a favorable outlook was hard to glean from some of Mr. Gore's statements on the campaign trail this year.
In March he said he was worried that the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999 had weakened the CRA.
He questioned, for example, the decision to let small banks with "outstanding" CRA ratings go five years between CRA exams. "As President, I would want to carefully review the new small-bank exam-cycle provision to ensure the level of lending, investment, and basic banking services are not impacted by the change in the frequency of the CRA exams."
His economic plan sounded a similar theme, pledging his administration would press banks to improve their compliance with the CRA investment and community services tests.
But the tough words on the CRA should not frighten off small banks, the source said.
For instance, despite the opposition of the Clinton administration to raising deposit insurance coverage to $200,000 per account, the source said, Mr. Gore would take a "closer look" at this and other reform proposals. Bolstering deposit insurance could jibe with his proposals for government-subsidized retirement savings accounts, another industry priority.
"He views himself as quite an advocate for community banks, and he recognizes the important role that deposit insurance plays in terms of their economic strength," the source said. "The Vice President fully appreciates the important role of the FDIC in both protecting savers and stabilizing the economic markets."
Mr. Gore's strong comments about privacy also have made bankers skittish.
In June at a speech in Whittier, Calif., he vowed to make consumer privacy a "national priority" under his administration. He urged Congress to adopt an "Electronic Bill of Rights" that would protect consumers from misuse of their medical and financial records, and proposed making it a federal crime to buy or sell Social Security numbers.
The Vice President's economic plan echoed these calls and said consumers should have the right to know "how and why their personal information is being collected," and the right to "block the transfer of that information to third parties."
The plan said he wants legislation that would protect the privacy of medical, financial, and genetic information. It supported industry self-regulation on the Internet, but urged the industry to do a better job of guarding privacy online.
Again, though, the campaign source argued that a Gore administration would be sensitive to the needs of banks and other businesses.
"He supports a plan that strikes the balance between the need for consumer privacy on the one hand, and the benefits that information sharing can provide to consumers in the economy on the other.
"He understands that information sharing can provide consumers huge benefits in terms of cost savings and time savings and product development."
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