Proposed amendments to the financial reform bill are due today at noon, but rumors are already swirling about changes that the Senate Banking Committee will consider when it votes on the legislation Thursday.
Amendments are expected that would broaden powers for operating subsidiaries, crack down on unitary thrifts, reform the Federal Home Loan Bank System, and confront other contentious issues, lobbyists and Capitol Hill sources said.
Other amendments could involve rollbacks of community reinvestment requirements, broader securities powers for banks, and removal of a requirement that banks offer low-cost checking accounts, the sources added.
But delay remains a possibility. Despite the committee's assertions that the vote will occur as scheduled, some observers predicted it would be postponed.
Two committee members are developing proposals to resolve the impasse between the Treasury Department and Federal Reserve Board over powers for direct operating subsidiaries of banks, sources said. The Clinton administration has threatened a veto if Treasury's concerns are not addressed.
Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., is considering a plan that would let operating subsidiaries do anything a national bank can do plus underwrite securities. An alternative would let them underwrite insurance too, and would require the top 50 banking organizations to use a holding company structure. Sen. Lauch Faircloth, R-N.C., may propose letting national banks underwrite securities.
Under either senator's plan, operating subsidiaries could neither conduct merchant banking activities, as the Treasury demands, nor develop real estate. The House handily defeated similar amendments before approving the overall legislation by one vote in May.
Gary E. Hughes, general counsel for the American Council of Life Insurance, told reporters Tuesday that some of these proposals "may be enough of a middle ground" to blunt a presidential veto. However, officials of the group vowed to oppose any effort to let operating subsidiaries underwrite insurance.
Treasury Secretary Robert E. Rubin had been invited to meet with committee Republicans Wednesday, but Banking Committee Chairman Alfonse M. D'Amato decided Wednesday that the meeting was unnecessary, a Treasury source said. Turmoil in world financial markets had prevented Mr. Rubin from committing to the meeting.
Sources predicted that Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, the committee's ranking Democrat, would seek to scale back powers for unitary thrift holding companies that would be granted under the bill that cleared the House in May. His plan would either prevent the transfer of ownership of unitary thrifts completely or at least prevent commercial companies from acquiring them, sources said.
In anticipation, a coalition of nearly 150 trade groups and thrifts on Monday urged Senate Banking Committee Chairman Alfonse M. D'Amato to oppose any limits on unitary thrift holding companies. They asked the committee to remove the provision in the House bill that would bar new unitary thrifts.
"For over 30 years the unitary thrift holding company has successfully served consumer needs," the letter said. "There is no justification for restructuring or terminating it."
Meanwhile, Senate Banking was still trying to reconcile disputes between the banking and insurance industries. Bankers and agents still disagree whether negotiated provisions to protect bank insurance sales from discriminatory state laws should override only future statutes or existing ones as well.
Officials of the life insurance group said this dispute would not derail the bill, and they also disputed comments by a senior Republican leadership aide Monday that Senate action on the bill was unlikely.
"We have heard all this before," said Philmore B. Anderson, a lobbyist for the group. "This issue has had a lot of problems, with lots of different affected industries. ... Enough of those problems have been addressed."