What that means, for good or for bad, is that no substantive legislation is bound to get passed. That could mean death for the bank-backed bankruptcy reform bill, which is down to its dying breath. It also means anyone on Capitol Hill even talking about major legislative initiatives is either just posturing for the cameras or positioning himself for the next Congress.

And it means that presidential appointments get held up, as Congress stalls while it waits to see who'll be the next president. This is especially so now, when one party controls the White House, which makes nominations, and the other controls the Congress, which gives them the final thumbs up or down.

This stalemate is gumming up the works in several of the banking agencies, with nominations for top regulators piling up at the Senate Banking Committee. The Federal Reserve, Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., Federal Housing Finance Board and the National Credit Union Administration have all run into the pile-up.

At the Fed, two nominations have been waiting for action for more than a year: the full 12-year Board terms for vice chairman Roger Ferguson and Carol Parry. Both nominations have been sitting with the Senate Banking Committee, where chairman Phil Gramm of Texas refuses to hold hearings or stage a vote. With another vacancy on the Fed Board, that leaves only two of the five members confirmed. Gramm, of course, is hopeful the next president will be, like him, a Republican from the Lone Star State.

Then there's the Parry nomination, which for Gramm is a personal affront. Unlike almost every other candidate for the Fed board, who are usually economists, Parry was a vice president of community development at Chase Manhattan Corp. In that job, she championed Chase's huge Community Reinvestment Act program. Gramm, of course, is the Senate's most ardent opponent of CRA.

If the Fed is stalled by its board vacancies, the FHFB has run into a ditch. The regulator of the Federal Home Loan Bank System has just two of its five seats filled, not even a quorum with which to vote and pass important measures. One of the two seats filled is awaiting confirmation for a full, seven-year term.

At the FDIC, chairwoman Donna Tanoue's nomination for a full, five-year term has languished for eight months. Also awaiting final Senate confirmation, not likely by this Congress, is the nomination of Richard Houseworth to the five-person FDIC Board.

Then there's the NCUA, where the nominee to replace chairman Norman D'Amours, whose six-year term expired a year ago, will not be heard or voted by the Senate this year, either.Word is that such uncertainty has injured morale.

Washington is written by Ed Roberts.

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