WASHINGTON -- The House Banking Committee is expected to sport a new streamlined look next year in a restructuring designed to make the panel more workable and mesh its structure with the economic agenda of the coming Clinton administration.
Under a proposal being circulated among committee Democrats, the panel would have six subcommittees instead of eight. Only four of the existing subcommittees -- financial institutions, housing, general oversight and investigation, and international development and finance -- would remain intact.
The functions of the other four subcommittees -- consumer affairs, domestic monetary policy, economic stabilization, and policy research and insurance -- would be merged into two new subcommittees. One would deal with macroeconomics and one with microeconomics.
"The chairman wants to reorganize," said a committee staff member, referring to Rep. Henry B. Gonzalez, D-Tex. The staff member said the reshuffling should bring "new blood and new ideas" to the committee's leadership by making the subcommittees more interesting and more important.
Currently, panel members shun subcommittees other than the financial institutions subcommittee and housing subcommittees. Consequently, both subcommittees include almost all members of the full committee, making legislative work cumbersome and, in some cases, duplicative. Under the proposed reorganization, membership on subcommittees would be strictly limited.
Sources familiar with the plan said that whether committee members will accept it should become clear as lawmakers return to Washington over the next month. But preliminary feedback is favorable, the sources said.
The macroeconomic panel, tentatively called the economic growth and credit formation subcommittee, would have jurisdiction over matters currently handled by the committee's domestic monetary policy subcommittee and economic stabilization subcommittee.
In addition to having oversight over the Federal Reserve System and the role of insurance companies as credit providers, the macroeconomic subcommittee also would oversee some government-sponsored enterprises such as the Student Loan Marketing Association.
The subcommittee also may have jurisdiction over the Federal Home Loan Banks system, which originally was set up as a central liquidity facility for savings and loans. Currently, it is under the jurisdiction of the housing and financial institutions panels.
Thrifts borrowed money from the home loan banks and used it for home mortgage loans. But the number of thrifts is declining, and those that remain are diversifying so that they are not solely providing home loans.
As a result, the home loan bank system could be tapped as a credit source for a national network of community development banks, a centerpiece of President-elect Bill Clinton's economic program. The community development banks envisioned by Clinton would provide credit in low-income communities.
Under the committee's proposal, the microeconomic panel, tentatively called the consumer credit and insurance subcommittee, would have jurisdiction over creation of the development banks.
Plan supporters say the opportunity for change is ripe because of a massive turnover in committee leadership.
Rep. Frank Annunzio, D-Ill., the second-highest ranking Democrat in seniority on the committee, did not seek re-election. Rep. Carroll Hubbard, D-Ky., was defeated in his primary election. Rep. Mary Rose Oakar, D-Ohio, and Rep. Ben Erdreich, D-Ala., were defeated in the general election. Rep. Doug Barnard, D-Ga., did not seek re-election, and Rep. Thomas Carper, D-Del., sought and won the gubernational race in his state.
As a result of the departures, only one current subcommittee chairman is returning to Congress in January: Gonzalez, who in addition to chairing the full committee also heads the housing panel.
Another factor that works in favor of reorganization, proponents say, is the caliber of the incoming congressional freshman class. "These are not necessarily farmers who've thrown down their plows to come to Congress," one aide said. "They've served in local government and want a bigger share of the action. I think the days of junior members not speaking unless spoken to are over."
The newcomers might be especially forceful in seeking an active role because of the rise of term limitations, a committee source said. "Some of these guys have maybe six, maybe eight years to make their mark, and they want to do it," the source said. "They want to get on committees that do things."
Committee aides said the proposed structure would allow all members to have a meaningful say in legislative deliberations, something not always possible under the current committee structure. The current setup is a hand-me-down from the days of former Rep. Fernand J. St Germain, who ruled the committee with an autocratic hand before his ouster from Congress in 1988.