WASHINGTON -- Interstate branching is only one step away from the President's desk now, following an overwhelming House vote Thursday in favor of the bill.

After passing the branching bill on a voice vote, the House approved the Community Development and Regulatory Improvement Act by a 410-12 vote.

In addition to providing seed money for community development banks, the latter bill eases burdensome regulations for banks and thrifts.

Roadblocks Seen

However, the separate votes came as an acknowledgment that the interstate bill still faces procedural obstacles in the Senate. The two bills had been joined together in a single package during House-Senate negotiations.

However, the House Rules Committee divided them again Thursday in an effort to shield the interstate measure from a procedural objection Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Tex., is expected to raise.

Sen. Gramm has argued that a provision that would effectively reinstate a provision of the Texas Constitution barring home equity loans is not germane to the bill under Senate rules.

A spokesman for House Banking Committee Chairman Henry B. Gonzalez said the Texas Democrat felt the Texas home-equity provision had a better chance in the Senate of being viewed as germane to the separate interstate legislation than it would be to the combined package as a whole.

If the full Senate approves the bills, they then go to the White House for President Clinton's signature. House members were optimistic about the legislation's prospects for full Senate passage.

"These are both very strong bills," said Rep. Stephen L. Neal, D-N.C, a major supporter of the bill. "This point of order issue is a very narrowly defined one, and I have no real concerns as to the legislation's passage in the Senate."

Major Legislation

Rep. Bill McCollum, R-Fla. called the package "one of the most important pieces of legislation in the community of banking interests to pass in a long time."

The interstate branching bill allows banks to acquire institutions across state borders starting one year after the date of enactment, yet they would be required to maintain these acquisitions as separately chartered banks.

Full branching begins on June 1, 1997.

The community development bill provides a $382 million incentive for banks to lend in low-income communities.

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