Chairman Phil Gramm said Tuesday that the Senate Banking Committee will begin voting on financial reform legislation Feb. 25, but the committee's ranking Democrat called this timing "overly ambitious."
The new chairman pledged to "move quickly" on financial modernization and said many obstacles to passing a bill were removed during negotiations last year. He also announced that beginning Tuesday he would help broker a deal on jurisdictional issues between the Federal Reserve Board and the Treasury Department.
Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, however, said that President Clinton's impeachment trial would make it difficult for the committee to meet the Feb. 25 deadline. The Maryland Democrat also noted that, unlike the House Banking Committee's schedule, Sen. Gramm's calendar did not set aside time for hearings.
He urged the Texas Republican to allow hearings on the Community Reinvestment Act, an explosive issue that helped torpedo the Senate's financial modernization debate last October. He said CRA hearings are needed to explore Sen. Gramm's claim that community groups are using CRA requirements to extort money from banks, an assertion Sen. Sarbanes called unproven.
Sen. Gramm has set up a Feb. 2 meeting with Sen. Sarbanes to identify areas of bipartisan agreement and to find middle ground on areas of disagreement.
Under Sen. Gramm's aggressive schedule, a discussion draft of the bill, drawn up by committee staff members, is to be released Feb. 8. A revised version is due Feb. 22. The committee would begin to vote on that draft Feb. 25. The schedule squares with a pledge Sen. Gramm made last week to send a bill to the Senate floor by Feb. 28.
Also Tuesday, Sen. Sarbanes announced that he and Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., would introduce financial privacy legislation. He added that the committee should hold hearings soon to evaluate both the Asian financial crisis and the derivatives industry, particularly the government's response to the problems at LongTerm Capital Management, a hedge fund that nearly failed in September.