The House Banking Committee is on the verge of a sea change in membership that is certain to influence the way financial industry issues are treated in the next few years.
More than one third of the panel's seats are expected to turn over next year. At a minimum, bank lobbyist assume their concerns will move to the back burner, as new members take time to learn the issues.
In the worst case, though, the industry will end up with a panel dominated by lawmakers more interested in the committee's urban affairs mandate than its bank industry jurisdiction.
Already, the industry has lost a number of key allies to retirement and the anti-incumbent politics of this volatile election year. Still others are in jeopardy because of the redistricting that followed the 1990 census.
But the big jolt could come next year, as even the panel's most senior members consider whether to jump ship for any of the dozens of seats likely to come open on the three most influential House committees: Ways and Means, Appropriations, and Energy and Commerce.
Even as senior a member of the banking committee as Rep. Esteban Torres, D-Calif., is giving thought to leaving.
Positions Up for Grabs
The close-knit California delegation has asked him to take a seat on the Appropriations Committee that will open with the retirement of a fellow Golden State Democrat, Rep. Edward Roybal. An aide to Rep. Torres acknowledged that the lawmaker is considering the assignment.
Among the panel's 31 Democrats, it is well within the bounds of possibility that 15 members will be gone next year. That includes retirees like Rep. Frank Annunzio, D-Ill.; members with tight races such as Rep. Stephen L. Neal, D-N.C.; and those who are said to be looking for other assignments, including Rep. Gerald Kleczka, D-Wis., and Rep. Floyd Flake, D-N.Y.
Turbulence in the Air
The seats of those who leave will be filled by lawmakers in what is certain to be the largest freshman class in memory. In an unusually turbulent election year, many will win office campaigning against the savings and loan bailout or the special interests that are thought to run Washington.
They are also running against the backdrop of the Los Angeles riots. And bank lobbyists are most worried by the prospect that many of those who seek a banking committee assignment will do so because of the panel's urban affairs mandate.
"We'd be better off if it were the Committee on Banking and Agriculture or the Committee on Banking and the Interior," said Edward L. Yingling, chief lobbyist for the American Bankers Association.
"But it's not -- it's the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs," he added, referring to the panel by its formal name.
Mr. Yingling believes Republicans could increase their ranks in the House by as many as 30 members, a gain that would ordinarily be expected to give the chamber a conservative, probusiness slant.
Yet, the anti-Washington mood that seems to have gripped the country could produce a body that "paradoxically, is more populist," he added.
"Bankers have always had trouble, since the days of Andrew Jackson, in periods of populism," he said.
Risks and Opportunities
The coming upheaval presents both risks and opportunities for financial industry lobbyists. Among them:
* With so many new members, organizations with strong grass-roots elements will have an advantage. That would favor the ABA and the Independent Insurance Agents of America, for example, over organizations such as the Securities Industry Association.
* Banking issues, which tend to be complex, are likely to be put on hold while new lawmakers find their footings. "There's going to be a steep learning curve," said lobbyist Richard F. Hohlt.
* But some lobbyists, including Financial Services Council president Sam Baptista, think the avalanche of new members could offer a means to break through the special interest gridlock that has held up major restructuring legisaltion.
"We're starting with a new slate," he said.
* Relationships that lobbyists have spent a career developing are disappearing overnight. "Every professional lobbyist in town is going to be working his fanny off getting out to meet new members," said J. Denis O'Toole, a senior lobbyist for the Savings and Community Bankers of America.
For th thrift industry, he said, the turnover could be helpful. "It's an opportunity to shake off the baggage of the 1980s," he said, referring to the ill will that developed during the legislative battles that led up to the 1989 bailout.
The Three R's
Still, the damage is hard to overlook. No matter what else happens, the banking industry has already lost a number of its key committee allies to the three R's of retirement, resentment, and redistricting.
Among those retiring are Rep. Doug Barnard, D-Ga., a former banker who has pushed for broad industry deregulation, and Rep. Chalmers Wylie of Ohio, the panel's senior Republican. Another key departure is that of Rep. Thomas R. Carper, a Democrat running for governor of Delaware.
Voter resentment is claiming still more members with a proindustry bent. Rep. Carroll Hubbard, a conservative Kentucky Democrat, was defeated following a damaging series in his local paper that ran under the headline: "A Friend of the Special Interests."
Rep. Mary Rose Oakar, D-Ohio, a popular eight-term incumbent, faced an unusual stiff challenge in the primary following disclosures that she was one of the worst abusers of the House Bank. She won in a crowded field, though with only a 40% plurality, and some observers think she could have trouble in November.
Redistricting has jeopardized the reelection prospects of a number of key banking committee members, including Rep. Ben Erdreich, D-Ala., chairman of the subcommittee on policy research and insurance, and Rep. Richard Baker, R-La.
Two temporary members - Rep. Gary Ackerman and Rep. Ted Weiss, both New York Democrats - appear likely to lose their districts once the dust settles from New York reapportionment.
The departure of lawmakers who serve on other panels will also have a ripple effect on the Banking Committee. The number of openings on House committees is almost unprecedented - Ways and Means stands to lose at least 11 of its 36 members - and the opportunities come at a time when service on the banking committee is less and less attractive.
"There's a lot of unpleasant things you have to do here," said Rep. Bruce Vento, D-Minn., a senior committee member who is all but certain to stay on the panel. "Everybody's mad at you all the time."
Growing Frustration Level
"There's a concern that if you stay on the banking committee for any length of time, you'll end up getting blamed for the problems" in the banking and thrift industry, added Rep. Joseph Kennedy 2d, D-Mass. Congressional sources said Rep. Kennedy has been offered a plum assignment on Ways and Means.
Other members say the frustration level is growing.
It's bad enough that the panel deals with complex issues, said Rep. Bill Orton, D-Utah.
"But then you when you bring them to the floor, and you are continually and resoundingly defeated, it gets discouraging," he added. Last year, the House voted down major banking legislation three times in a row, and this year the body rejected a measure to provide funding for the Resolution Trust Corp.
Mr. Orton is one who says he enjoyus the banking committee, but is actively campaigning for a seat on Ways and Means anyhow.
"I'm a tax attorney and the driving factor that brought me to Washington was the opportunity to work on tax legislation," he said. "I don't know how long I'll stay in Congress if I don't get this assignment."
Alluring for Juniors
Ironically, the rush by senior members to leave the banking committee is creating incentives for some junior members to remain.
"So many people are leaving that there will be many opportunities next year," said Rep. Larry LaRocco, D-Idaho.
Though only a first-term lawmaker, Mr. LaRocco notes that the likely departures could open the way for him to assume a subcommittee chairmanship. "And that intrigues me," he added.
However, Rep. LaRocco is one of his party's rising stars, and House sources said he is being encouraged behind the scenes to take a spot on the more prestigious Ways and Means Committee.
But Rep. LaRocco faces a dilemma of the type that is likely to keep him and others like him on banking. Both Ways and Means and Appropriations are "exclusive" committees, whose members hold no other assignments.
As a result, Mr. LaRocco would not only have to give up his banking committee seat to serve on Ways and Means, but his position on the House Interior Committee as well.
And for a state like Utah, with its vast open spaces, the Interior Committee might well be the most important jon Capitol Hill.