If banking trade groups are generally elated by the prospect of a Republican Congress for the next two years - "We won't have to worry about (Rep.) Joe Kennedy holding hearings every other week, thank God," says an official at one banking organization - that doesn't mean that Washington-based consumer groups and community activists will go into hiding.
Still, the new complexion of Congress does signify that "on the Hill, we are going to have to move from offense to defense," acknowledges Stephen Brobeck, executive director of the Consumer Federation of America. Agrees Barbara Roper, another CFA official: "The opportunities to advance strong pro-consumer legislation have vanished. We'll have to put out fires for the next two years."
But defeatism isn't likely. Brobeck said in an interview that he thinks consumers can find common ground with both Rep. Jim Leach, the incoming House Banking Committee chairman, and Sen. Alfonse D'Amato, his counterpart in the Senate. The group also expects to boost its lobbying clout with the addition of retired Sen. Howard Metzenbaum, the Ohio Democrat who will serve as CFA chairman.
"There may be opportunities for consumer protection that are clearly needed and reasonable," Brobeck said, citing such areas as mutual fund sales by banks and rising fee and commission charges on securities sales and other financial services.
Other consumer advocates also talk of keeping up the good fight. Michelle Meier, counsel for government affairs at Consumers Union, vows to press for laws governing bank mutual fund sales. Surveys may say otherwise, but she believes consumers are still being routinely. "misled" into believing such funds are federally insured.
Edmund Mierzwinski, the consumer program director at the U.S. Public Interest Research Group - a Ralph Nader organization - downplays the change in Congressional control. "I don't see any real change in Congress toward bankers," he says. "Congress was always pro-banker. What happened was that Congressmen (Henry) Gonzalez and Kennedy and Senator (Donald) Riegle had taken our views into account."
One executive branch source believes that demands from consumer groups can be rebuffed fairly easily on legislation to expand bank businesses. "They may be able to team up the securities and insurance interests on the floors of both houses. But on the committees, they are going to be somewhat irrelevant."