WASHINGTON Tuesday's Republican landslide may prove to be good news for banks worried about the administration's fair-lending agenda- but bad news for thrifts looking for government help m recapitalizing their insurance fund.
Bankers see the GOP as more friendly to their interests on the broad set of issues known as regulatory burden. The two biggest concerns are Community Reinvestment Act reform and the Department of Justice's aggressive pursuit of fair4ending violations.
"We've gone from a decade in which the consumer activists were really able to push their legislative agenda to a point where they not only can't push forward but we can begin pushing back," said Edward L. Yingling, the American Bankers Association's chief lobbyist.
The elections have caused the political equivalent of an earthquake in the key congressional panels. For example, Rep. Jim Leach, R-Iowa, is in line to become the first Republican chairman of the House Banking Committee in 40 years. In the Senate, Affonse M. D'Amato. R-N.Y., is due to succeed retiring Sen. Donald W. Riegle, D-Mich.. as chairman of the banking committee.
The power shifts are sure to influence the debate over the industry's responsibilities to lower-income consumers. Mr. Yingling said the rise of Republic cans would strengthen the hand of regulators questioning the administration's efforts to overhaul the Community Reinvestment Act.
Congressional liberals, he said, "have lost the bully pulpit" they used to jawbone the agencies.
"Bankers haven't yet realized just how bad that new Community Reinvestment Act regulation is," added Bert Ely, an Alexandria. Va.-based. analyst who follows the banking and thrift industries. "When they do, they'll be looking for legislation."
Republicans, he added, will look more kindly on the industry's concerns than the Democrats did.
For thrifts, however, nobody has been more determined to prevent the use of taxpayer dollars in rebuilding the Savings Association Insurance Fund than Rep. Leach.
"This election should put the final nail in the delusions some people had about taxpayer money being put into SAIF," said James Butera, a financial institutions lobbyist.
At the Savings and Community Bankers of America, lobbyist Stephen Verdier said the thrift group is prepared to work with Rep. Leach. but acknowledged that the task of obtaining help in rebuilding the fund had become more difficult.
"I guess it would be fair to say that Rep. Leach doesn't share our enthusiasm on the SAIF issue," Mr. Verdier added.
One issue that is expected to take center stage is the Whitewater investigation.
Rep. Leach pressed hard for hearings but was angry at the limited sessions held by the panel's current chairman, Rep. Henry B. Gonzalez.
One Senate Banking aide said the Republican leadership may actually create a panel expressly to deal with Whitewater inquiries.
"The Republicans still have to figure out what subcommittees they want to have, but they may end up with a Whitewater subcommittee or they may even create a whole select committee on investigations to deal with it," he said.
The elections, which gave Republicans control of the House for the first time in 42 years, as well as control of the Senate, will bring significant changes to the banking committees in both chambers.
Sen. Jim Sasser. D-Tenn., a senior member of the Senate Banking Committee, was defeated, as was Rep. Larry LaRocco, D-Idaho, a senior member of the House Banking Committee who was regarded as friendly to the industry.
Departing Republican bankmg committee members include Rep. Tom Ridge, who was elected governor of Pennsylvania, and Rep. Rod Gramms, who was elected senator from Minnesota.
Rep. Mike Huffington was defeated in the California Senate race.
On the Democratic side, Rep. Herb Klein of New Jersey and Rep. Eric Fingerhut were defeated for reelection.
While bankers may regard Republicans as more favorable to their cause than Democrats, they have mixed views on the two men will chair the banking committees.
Kenneth A. Guenther, executive vice president of the Independent Bankers Association, recalled that Sen. D'Amato, R-N.Y., has traditionally been viewed as an ally of the securities industry.
"Sen. D'Amato, because of his large urban constituency, may push fair lending far more effectively than some of the liberal democrats have been," said Karen Shaw,. president of ISD/Shaw Inc., a research firm that follows banking legislation and regulation.
But the ABA's Mr. Yingling said Sen. D'Amato has evolved over the years.
"In the last Congress his record on issues of concern to us has been excellent," he said. "We feel like we have a good relationship?"
On the House side, some large banks may worry about Rep. Leach, an advocate of higher bank capital requirements and the sponsor of legislation that would increase regulation of derivatives.
Mr. Guenther, however, was delighted that Rep. Leach is moving up to chairman, and said the selection of Rep. Doug Bereuter, R-Neb.. as chairman of the panel's most important subcommittee would also be a good sign.
"For the first time since I've been in Washington, we have people from rural America running the committee and the key subcommittee," he said.
For many lobbyists, the principal task now is to become acquainted with a Congress that will change radically in January.
Relationships with lawmakers and aides that lobbyists have spent years cultivating will be ended overnight. Democratic staffing levels will be slashed dramatically, and Republicans will be adding aides. The network of committee and subcommittee chairman that lobbyists are accustomed to dealing with will also be overhauled completely.
"If you ask me what Carlos Morehead's position on derivatives is, I couldn't say," said Mr. Butera, referring to the California Republican who is likely to take over the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Subcommittee chairmanships on the House Banking Committee depend on a complex series of decisions lawmakers must make involving other committees.
The second-ranking Republican on the panel, Rep. Bill McCollum of Florida, could take the helm of the financial institutions subcommittee, the panel that deals with mainstream banking legislation.
But Rep. McCollum is running for a leadership post in the House that would preclude his taking a subcommittee chair. Even if he doesn't become the Republican whip, he might opt to take a panel on the House Judiciary Committee, of which he is also a member.
Next in line is Rep. Marge Roukema of New Jersey, but it was unclear whether she would go for the financial institutions subcommittee or opt for a subcommittee chair on the Education and Labor Committee.
A number of sources said she wanted the Education and Labor panel. However. an aide to Ms. Roukema said she has considerable interest in the banking spot.
Should both Rep. McCollum and Rep. Roukema opt for other panels, Rep. Doug Bereuter, R-Neb., would probably chair financial institutions.