* IN AMERICA, power flows from the people. But in Washington, a good deal of the people's power resides with men and women the voters have never seen or met.

Many of the most important decisions affecting bank policy are made by a kind of permanent government of regulators, lobbyists, and congressional aides.

While their higher-profile bosses are giving speeches or greeting constituents, members of the permanent government are immersed in the details of banking law and regulation. Their decisions affect almost every aspect of daily life in banks, thrifts, and other financial institutions.

During the 1992 presidential campaign, for example, Bill Clinton repeatedly promised to create a network of 100 community development banks.

But after the election, a more anonymous group of aides drafted the legislation. Their bill offered incentives for new and existing banks, but no longer contemplated anything like a network of 100 development institutions. And that was before Congress got hold of it.

The community development bank bill is one of two major pieces of banking legislation - the other being interstate branching - now working their way to the President's desk. And in both cases, the hard bargaining and decision making has been conducted almost entirely by staff.

In the Senate, the staff's influence is paramount. "The power of Senate staff is just so enormous," said James J. Butera, a lawyer and financial institutions lobbyist.

The Senate staff's power is a result of senators' overextended schedules. Each of the 100 senators holds a number of important committee assignments and - in most cases - either the chairmanship or ranking minority seat on at least one subcommittee. They tend to leave the details to their staff.

By contrast, the 435 House members have fewer committee assignments and more time to concentrate on legislation - a fact that often gives them the advantage over the Senate in negotiations over legislation.

Even in the House, where members are more likely to participate in decision making, the staff remains powerful.

"The devil is in the details," said one House aide, echoing the view of lobbyists whose job it is to track and influence legislation.

The banking agencies also have a permanent force of aides who hammer out the details of regulations. Although they take their cues from the appointed regulators, their influence can be great.

Staff members control the flow of paper in and out of their agencies. And as with congressional staff, they are the ones that do the actual drafting. While the Federal Reserve Board or the comptroller of the currency hold the ultimate power to approve regulations, they work with the words passed up by their staff.

In the pages that follow, American Banker's Washington Bureau profiles a handful of the men and women who work behind the scenes in Washington.

The list is by no means comprehensive. Dozens of others might just as easily have been chosen.

But the men and women you will meet in this supplement are representative of the lobbyists, regulators and congressional staff who, day after day, make Washington work.

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.