Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes is blocking the confirmation of John D. Hawke Jr. as comptroller of the currency.
If the Treasury official is not confirmed before Congress adjourns at midweek, President Clinton could make a temporary appointment that would allow him to serve as comptroller for 12 months.
The White House said late Friday that it plans to nominate Gary Gensler to succeed Mr. Hawke as Treasury under secretary for domestic finance. A former partner of Goldman Sachs Group LP, Mr. Gensler joined the Treasury in mid-1997 as assistant secretary for financial markets.
A deal with Sen. Sarbanes is being negotiated. The Maryland Democrat reportedly is concerned that the Treasury has not created enough consumer protections for account holders under the program to make most government payments electronically by 1999.
"Sen. Sarbanes is one of several Democratic senators who felt they needed more time to review the answers to the questions that had been submitted by the members of the committee to Mr. Hawke," his spokesman said.
A Treasury official added that Sen. Sarbanes was dissatisfied with Mr. Hawke's defense of the Community Reinvestment Act under questioning from Sen. Richard C. Shelby, R-Ala., during his confirmation hearing last month.
Nevertheless, "we expect it to be worked out in a couple days," the Treasury official said. Congress, already past its targeted adjournment date of Oct. 9, is expected to close this session by midweek.
The move by Sen. Sarbanes has surprised observers. Mr. Hawke, who is popular with lawmakers and the banking industry, was expected to sail through with token opposition from some conservative Republicans on the committee, such as Sen. Shelby.
"I doubt we have ever had a nominee for comptroller of the currency in the history of the United States who has been better qualified than Jerry Hawke," said Rep. John J. LaFalce, the ranking Democrat on the House Banking Committee. "It is incomprehensible to me why anyone would put a hold on his nomination."
President Clinton nominated Mr. Hawke in July. Julie L. Williams has been the acting comptroller since April when Eugene A. Ludwig's five-year term expired and he took a job with Bankers Trust Corp.