A proposal by three Republican leaders to single-handedly draft a compromise financial reform bill was strongly objected to Thursday by Democratic lawmakers who called it partisan and unfair.
Under the proposal -- unveiled at a House-Senate conference committee meeting by House Banking Chairman Jim Leach, R-Iowa, Senate Banking Chairman Phil Gramm, R-Tex., and House Commerce Committee Chairman Thomas J. Bliley Jr., R-Va. -- the conference committee would, at most, meet one more day next week to discuss the issues publicly.
Afterward, the three Republican leaders would immediately begin drafting what Sen. Gramm called a "consensus" bill, drawn from opinions expressed at the various conference committee meetings. The draft bill would be ready as early as Oct. 8.
The full committee would then have two days during the week of Oct. 11 to offer amendments on the bill. Ideally, Sen. Gramm said, the 66 House and Senate conferees would vote on the finished product by Oct. 20, at which point it would be voted on by the full House and Senate.
"I intend to try to listen to everybody," said Sen. Gramm. "Successful legislation comes from compromise."
Rep. Leach agreed. "I can't make up a fairer way to do it," he said. "There is no desire to have a partisan product."
But Democratic lawmakers immediately cried foul, arguing that two days was hardly enough time to deal with issues that have stymied Congress for decades.
Rep. John J. LaFalce, D-N.Y., ranking Democrat on House Banking, said he questioned the meaning of the word "consensus" under such a proposal. Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., called the plan "procedurally a mistake."
Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, D-Md., ranking Democrat on Senate Banking, said the proposal was not an example of bipartisanship.
"You are the majority, and I presume you're going to act as you choose," he said. "But please don't try to portray it" as bipartisan. Sen. Sarbanes also said that it was not "a wise way to proceed" if the leadership was interested in a presidential signature.
But Sen. Gramm defended the idea, saying that "anybody who is the least bit objective" would see it as fair. "If we can't do it in two days, we're not serious."
Thursday's conference committee meeting was still in session as American Banker went to press. But lawmakers were anticipating a discussion on the merits of the Community Reinvestment Act, one of the most contentious issues remaining. The conference committee is expected to reconvene Oct. 6.
Late Thursday a spokesman for Rep. Marge Roukema, R-N.J., chairwoman of House Banking's financial institutions subcommittee, said she would introduce a bill today that attempts to resolve several thorny reform issues.
Rep. Roukema's proposal would make the Office of Thrift Supervision a division of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, merge the bank and thrift insurance funds, rebate insurance funds when the reserve ratio exceeds 1.5%, close the unitary thrift loophole, and prohibit commercial firms from buying existing thrift holding companies.