WASHINGTON - In an effort to counter allies of the insurance industry, a key House Republican is crafting legislation that would give national banks broader authority to affiliate with insurance companies.
Rep. David Dreier, who ranks just behind chairman Gerald B. Solomon on the House Rules Committee, would allow national banks to affiliate with insurance companies wherever state-chartered banks can.
Currently, 22 states allow state-chartered banks to affiliate with insurance companies, according to the Conference of State Bank Supervisors.
A staffer in Rep. Dreier's office said that the course the lawmaker decides to follow will hinge upon what the Glass-Steagall reform bill looks like when the Commerce Committee finishes work on it. The measure could be tacked on as a floor amendment to the Glass-Steagall measure.
"We're going to reserve final judgment until after the Commerce markup, but if they don't pass out a bill that makes some real changes in this area, then we'll definitely pursue this amendment," he said.
Rep. Dreier carries considerable influence as a high-ranking GOP lawmaker on the House Rules Committee, which sets the terms for floor debate. The California Republican is especially influential on financial institutions issues because he previously served on the House Banking Committee.
"He has great interest in and knowledge of the banking area," said Edward L. Yingling, executive director for government relations at the American Bankers Association. "In addition, he is very highly regarded within the leadership."
Mr. Yingling added that while it is still unclear what will emerge from the Commerce Committee Glass-Steagall deliberations, which could begin as early as next week, the ABA would support the Dreier amendment.
However, there are bound to be a few sticking points in Rep. Dreier's quest for broadened bank affiliation powers. Word of a potential Dreier amendment has brought stiff opposition from the powerful insurance lobby.
"We obviously would oppose any attempt by Mr. Dreier to attach any amendment that would preempt state antiaffiliation laws," said Phil Anderson, senior Washington representative for the Independent Insurance Agents of America.
Karen Addis, spokeswoman for the American Council of Life Insurance, said: "The ACLI cannot support any proposal that contemplates affiliations between insurers and banks."
And Rules Chairman Solomon could very well favor the insurance industry's position, as co-founder of an insurance firm himself.
Nevertheless, the prospect of the Dreier amendment may inspire the insurance industry to hammer out some sort of compromise with banks during the Commerce Committee's work on the Glass-Steagall bill.
"It puts some pressure on the insurance industry because they run the risk of a positive amendment on the floor," Mr. Yingling said.
Commerce Committee staff members have been trying to piece together an agreement on bank insurance powers that is palatable to both the banking and insurance industries.
However, Mr. Anderson did not have high hopes that anything would be worked out that pleases both industries.
"Those talks have run their course," Mr. Anderson said.