Leach will have to give up his banking committee chairmanship in the next Congress, thanks to the six-year limit the GOP put on committee chairs when it won control of Congress in 1994.

LaFalce, the diminutive, wise-cracking, 13-term congressman from Upstate New York, has been waiting in the wings for years to make his mark. His agenda includes initiatives to require greater disclosures on credit cards, measures attacking so-called predatory lenders, support of lifeline banking and tougher standards on privacy. As the ranking Democrat on the banking committee, LaFalce played a major role in crafting the final version of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, including the drafting of the controversial privacy provisions. The odds on a LaFalce chairmanship are 5-to-4.

If the Republicans keep control of the House, Marge Roukema is most likely to get the chair. The 10-term lawmaker from the northern suburbs of New Jersey narrowly survived a primary challenge from the far right this spring. She will be the longest-serving Republican on the committee, and she has been chairman of the panel's subcommittee on financial institutions.

Roukema supports further tightening of privacy rules and an increase in Federal Deposit Insurance coverage. Although she recently laid out an agenda attacking predatory lenders, she's considered a moderate and is not expected to favor major legislative initiatives that would rile the banking industry.

But Roukema is handicapped by her reputation as a lightweight, and she has few legislative accomplishments on her résumé. She also is not a major player in party politics. The odds on a Roukema chair are 4-to-5 because of the likelihood that the Democrats will control the House; otherwise she has a clear shot at it.

Vying with Roukema for the chair if the Republicans retain control will be Richard Baker, a seven-termer who heads the panel's subcommittee on capital markets, securities and government-sponsored enterprises. Baker not only has the stature to be committee chair but has built a reputation over the past few years as a tireless legislator. He has worked hard to impose greater limits on Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Federal Home Loan Bank System. Baker, like Roukema, has also endorsed regulatory relief legislation for banks.

Baker is more active than Roukema in efforts by the GOP to retain control of the House, which could throw support of the Republican leadership his way when it comes time to appoint committee chairmen. While Baker has the stature for the banking committee chair and the respect of his colleagues, it would be difficult for the GOP caucus to turn away a female for the lead role, especially one who has considerable longevity. The odds on a Baker chairmanship are a little longer than for Roukema, 7-to-10.

A dark horse in the race is Michael Oxley, a nine-term Republican from Ohio, who as chairman of the House Commerce Committee's Finance and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee helped push Gramm-Leach-Bliley to fruition. Oxley could chair the next banking committee because the Republicans may be planning to reorganize and transfer much of his subcommittee's responsibilities into the banking committee. Odds on Oxley are 1-to-5.

A spokeswoman for Oxley denies that he has any aspirations to join, let alone chair, the banking committee. "He's flattered to be mentioned, but he is intent on the chairmanship of the commerce committee," she says.

There's no such horse-race in the Senate. Phil Gramm is a shoo-in because the Republicans are almost certain to hold on to their majority. Washington is written by Ed Roberts.

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