WASHINGTON Senate Banking Committee Chairman Phil Gramm on Monday vowed to raise his profile on bankruptcy reform legislation and the fate of government-sponsored enterprises like Fannie Mae and said he would make a second run at reforming securities laws a key element of his 2001 agenda.
At a press conference about his agenda, Sen. Gramm also confirmed that Texas community banker Don Powell is expected to be President Bushs pick for chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.
His comments on bankruptcy reform were significant because the legislation has primarily been the domain of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Last year Sen. Gramm frequently voiced frustration that provisions directly affecting financial services companies, such as limits on the marketing practices of credit card issuers, were being included on bills without sufficient input by the banking panel.
He said that to avoid this problem he would propose his own bill, bring it to a vote in his committee, and reconcile it later with the broader bills.
It struck me that the Banking Committee could do a better job of writing those provisions than letting the Judiciary Committee write them, Sen. Gramm said. It will be a better bill than the one President Clinton vetoed last year.
Regarding the GSEs, such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the Texas Republican said that he would meet individually with their heads and closely examine complaints that the companies unfairly benefit from a government subsidy and should be more strictly regulated.
Sen. Gramm said he would ask Sen. Paul Sarbanes of Maryland, the committees ranking Democrat, to participate in these discussions, but he stopped short of promising hearings.
We ought to begin with private discussions with them about the GSEs role in America what they are doing and to what degree are they staying within the mandate that Congress set out, the Texas Republican said. To what degree are they using potential subsidies to get into other business where they are advantaged over their competitors? To what degree is there a need for any legislative change?
Sen. Gramm said that much of his committees effort this year will be focused on securities reform, such as whether to reduce Securities and Exchange Commission registration fees or disclosure requirements for public companies.
Mr. Powell, the leading candidate for the FDIC post, is the president and chief executive officer of $352 million-asset First National Bank of Amarillo and a longtime friend of Sen. Gramm. Sen. Gramm said he would support Mr. Powells nomination but did not say when a formal announcement from the new administration would come regarding the appointment.
I dont know why Don Powell wants that job, Sen. Gramm said. He is a very successful banker, he is the past chairman of the board of Texas A & M University, and he is very close to President Bush. But he does want the job, and I assume the President is going to appoint him.
Sen. Gramm shed no light on Mr. Powells positions on deposit insurance reform but reiterated that he remains opposed to raising coverage.
However, he said he is open to merging the bank and thrift insurance funds, along with bank and thrift charters.