WASHINGTON - Hopes for an interstate branching bill faded further on Tuesday as key congressional supporters expressed doubts about passing legislation this year.

"I'd like this morning simply to express my concern that this may not be the appropriate time for us to undertake such a large job," Rep. Peter Hoagland, D-Neb., said at a subcommittee hearing on interstate banking.

"If we try to pursue it in haste, we're going to do so at some risk," he added.

Flagging Enthusiasm

Rep. Hoagland has been among the most enthusiastic supporters of interstate legislation. His change of heart was only the latest indication that members of the House Banking Committee have little enthusiasm for taking the bill up this year.

Earlier, six influential committee members signed a "Dear Colleague" letter contending that the interstate bill being fashioned by a coalition of banking and insurance interests would "poison the atmosphere" for comprehensive reform.

Rep. Elizabeth Patterson, a moderate Democrat from South Carolina, voiced concerns Tuesday similar to those of Rep. Hoagland.

"There are 25 legislative days left," said Rep. Patterson. "I have great hesitation that I will have the time and opportunity to really sit on this issue at this time during the legislative session."

However, Rep. Frank Annunzio, D-Ill., chairman of the banking committee's financial institutions subcommittee, said he plans to poll subcommittee members to see if a majority wants to vote.

Predicting a Vote

Some lobbyists following the measure said they expect a vote will be held because the issue is important to both Rep. Annunzio and Rep. Chalmers Wylie, R-Ohio, the banking panel's ranking Republican.

"If were going to bet, I would have to be prepared for a mark-up after the Democratic convention," said Sam Baptista, president of the Financial Services Council. Still, "there does not appear to be a strong consensus about moving forward."

Meanwhile, a coalition of banking and insurance interests were trying again to reach agreement on a bill that would permit interstate branching, but restrict some bank insurance activities. Those talks collapsed late last month and the parties disagreed about the amount of progress.

At Tuesday's hearing, the American Bankers Association endorsed an interstate bill sponsored by Rep. Bruce Vento, D-Minn., and Rep. Wylie.

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