reform this week, but bipartisan support in Congress and the White House all but guarantees that opposition will be overcome and the legislation will be enacted.
House Banking Committee Chairman Jim Leach said Monday that the final language will be circulated to conference committee members today for their signatures. The full House and Senate could vote this week or next, he said.
"I am optimistic that this bill will receive majority support" and President Clinton's signature, Rep. Leach, R-Iowa, told reporters.
Key Democrats such as Rep. Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts and John D. Dingell of Michigan oppose the bill because they consider the consumer privacy and community reinvestment provisions too weak.
Rep. John J. LaFalce, D-N.Y., disagreed. He predicted that a majority of House Democrats will vote for the bill because it is bipartisan and has White House support. Privacy protections were strengthened as the bill advanced, he said, and the Community Reinvestment Act was preserved. He argued that Sen. Phil Gramm's proposed CRA exemption for small banks was stopped and disclosure requirements on community groups minimized.
"On the CRA question, we had a win on that," Rep. LaFalce said Monday. "Otherwise, I wouldn't vote for the bill.''
Community activists complained that the White House gave up too much in its CRA compromise with Sen. Gramm, the Senate Banking Committee chairman.
Chris Saffert, legislative representative at the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, said his group opposes the bill because it does not impose the CRA on uninsured, wholesale banks, lengthens the examination cycle for small banks, and imposes onerous disclosure requirements on banks and advocates.
Mr. Saffert said his group also opposes new studies the Fed is supposed to conduct on the default rates, delinquencies, and profitability of CRA loans. "The new studies ... look like they are designed to provide material for future attacks to CRA," he said.
"CRA should have been imposed on the insurance and securities industries," said Bob Gnaizda, general counsel at the Greenlining Coalition in San Francisco, an umbrella group representing three dozen ethnic, civil rights, religious, and minority organizations. "It's ironic that we integrate the industries and then bifurcate CRA responsibilities."
Mr. Gnaizda, speaking more harshly but echoing the sentiments of other consumer advocates interviewed Monday, lambasted President Clinton's performance. "The President was a failure in protecting CRA," he said. "He surrendered to Gramm."
Mr. Gnaizda bluntly attributed the White House's position to "huge financial contributions" and First Lady Hillary Clinton's expected bid for a U.S. Senate seat from New York, home of many large financial companies.
The only thing Mr. Gnaizda would not touch was the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr.'s decision to support the compromise after vowing to defend the CRA at all costs. "I'm not going to comment," he said.
In a statement Friday, Mr. Jackson said the final bill "assures that CRA remains vital and relevant in the new financial landscape."
Matthew Lee, director of Inner City Press/Community on the Move, accused Mr. Jackson of making a "political calculation: Do I want to look like a winner or a loser?"
Perhaps it was wishful thinking, but many activists expected Mr. Jackson to retreat from his support after seeing details of the bill. But a spokeswoman for the civil rights leader said Monday that Mr. Jackson had not changed his position. Most admitted, anonymously, that their fight against the bill is significantly less potent without Mr. Jackson's voice.
Like others in his camp, Mr. Lee is hoping opposition will grow as more details become known. "I can't say the chances look great," he said. "But I don't think both sides understand the agreement in the same way."
For instance, he called one of the administration's purported victories "illusory." Holding companies' bank subsidiaries would have to have "satisfactory" ratings to engage in new powers. None of the top 50 bank holding companies has a bank with a less than "satisfactory" CRA rating, he said, and the banking regulators currently grade 98% of banks either "outstanding" or "satisfactory."
Banking industry officials said the consumerist complaints are exaggerated.
In the end, both sides compromised slightly on their key demands, said Edward L. Yingling, chief lobbyist for the American Bankers Association. "Overall, as a practical matter, there isn't much change," he said, except for some regulatory relief for small banks.
He contended that many small banks had given up on pursuing "outstanding" CRA ratings because they were difficult to obtain, but now they would have an incentive to do so to lengthen the period between their CRA exams to five years. Those with lower scores would face more frequent reviews.
"We're very much concerned about not only CRA but a lot of other provisions in the bill," said Jake Lewis, who handles financial issues for the consumer advocate Ralph Nader and spent 27 years on the House Banking Committee's staff. "We are definitely doing our best to get people interested on the Hill in opposing the conference report."
Asked if opponents have any hope of convincing either the House or Senate to reject the conference report or of persuading the White House to veto the bill, Mr. Lewis said, "There's a chance. No question this is an uphill fight."