subject of Senate hearings. Sen. Byron Dorgan, a first-term Democrat from North Dakota, said Tuesday Congress ought to investigate the effects huge bank mergers could have on customers and the economy. "I wish we would think through this," Sen. Dorgan said Tuesday on the CNBC program "Inside Opinion." "We should hold some hearings and ask basic questions such as 'Is this good for our country.'" The concern is not so much the number of mergers taking place this year, but the size, the senator said. Seven of the 10 largest deals in the history of banking have been announced this year. "This new wave of banking mergers will almost certainly lead to dwindling credit and more costly financial services for small-business owners, farmers, and other bank customers," Sen. Dorgan wrote in Nov. 2 letters to Senate Banking Committee Chairman Alfonse M. D'Amato and the committee's ranking Democrat, Sen. Paul Sarbanes of Maryland. "Increased concentration of banking assets ... may also expose taxpayers to a new threat of future bailouts if these megabanks lose their ability to supervise their risky investments." Sen. Dorgan asked Sen. D'Amato to hold hearings quickly. Asked on the CNBC program whether the Republican-controlled Congress is likely to share his concerns, Sen. Dorgan responded: "These folks are cheerleaders. They're waving pom-poms." Sen. D'Amato and his staff were in Whitewater hearings Tuesday and could not be reached for comment. House Banking's financial institutions subcommittee has already looked into the question. At a Oct. 17 hearing, panel chairwoman Rep. Marge Roukema, R-N.J., asked regulators whether mergers will limit customer access to banking services. While the number of banks may be shrinking, agency leaders assured the lawmakers that the number of branches has remained at roughly 83,000 for the past decade. L. William Seidman, CNBC's chief commentator, rebutted Sen. Dorgan on Tuesday's program. The former Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. chairman said the consolidation of the banking industry is "long overdue." Mr. Seidman said there will always be thousands of community banks to serve individuals and small businesses across the country. But the United States needs to build bigger banks to compete with the giant institutions based in foreign countries, he said.
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