House approval of financial reform legislation this year is increasingly unlikely-though not impossible.

Senate leaders have said they will not take up the issue until the House completes its work.

But little progress has been made since June 20, when the House Banking Committee narrowly approved the bill and handed it over to the House Commerce Committee. With numerous provisions still unsettled, that panel is expected to miss its Sept. 15 deadline for action by at least two weeks.

If the bill that finally emerges from Commerce varies significantly from Banking's version, GOP leaders will have to meld the two bills into a consensus package that can win a majority on the floor.

House leaders will be working under severe time pressure: Congress is expected to adjourn early, perhaps in mid- to late October.

"Getting it to the floor this year, particularly if they go out early, would take a lot of work," said Edward L. Yingling, executive vice president for government affairs at the American Bankers Association.

Still, lobbyists kept at it this week, knowing that if the House does not vote this fall the issue will resurface next year when the second session of this congressional term starts.

"We still have another full year," said Steve Verdier, a lobbyist for America's Community Bankers. "No one is out of the woods on this thing just because it lays over to January."

But Kenneth A. Guenther, executive vice president of the Independent Bankers Association of America, said any delay helps opponents. "Time is a friend in terms of defeating bad legislation," he said.

A vote in the House this year is only possible if Commerce keeps its changes to a minimum and it makes the bill more palatable to bankers, congressional sources said. Banking is the one industry that opposes the bill. The insurance and securities industries are angling for changes but still support the legislation.

On Thursday insurance trade groups sent a letter urging House Commerce members to let state regulators determine which new products are insurance.

Without this provision, the insurers warned, "the Comptroller of the Currency will continue to greatly expand the scope of bank insurance underwriting activity."

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