WASHINGTON - Rep. Dick Chrysler, PARTY, STATE TK, isn't the only freshman lawmaker who's angry about burdensome regulations, but he's one of the few with firsthand experience.
A former director of both Michigan National Bank and First of America Bank, Mr. Chrysler said he quickly learned that banking is "the most regulated industry" in America.
"I've been subjected to all the examinations and have just gone away shaking my head," said Rep. Chrysler during a recent interview.
Rep. Chrysler's free-market views are one reason bankers have such high hopes for the new Congress. The bumper crop of freshmen House members, including Rep. Chrysler, are putting a more industry-friendly face on the banking committee.
"We need to understand that money is really nothing more than a commodity itself, and we have vendors out there - they're called banks - and they deal in the business of making a return for selling that product," said Rep. Chrysler.
The 50-member House Banking Committee includes 15 freshmen Republicans - more than half of the panel's Republican ranks. Most say they are still busy learning the ropes - and staying in the background while they do.
"I think my view of the appropriate behavior that freshmen should follow is a function of the advice I was given in the state legislature, and that was 'learn before you act,'" said Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich, R-Md., one of the House Banking freshmen. "It tends to give you more credibility down the road."
But there are some signs that this huge new bloc of legislators could give their elders -including House Banking Committee Chairman Jim Leach - some problems.
In particular, Rep. Leach could encounter some opposition in his efforts to maintain and even strengthen the role of the Federal Reserve.
The Iowa Republican recently introduced legislation aimed at consolidating the banking agencies, merging the Office of Thrift Supervision and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, and giving new authority to the central bank.
Some of the new members, often because of concerned phone calls from their districts, view the Fed with wary eyes. Rep. Ehrlich went so far as to say he sided more closely with a Democratic senator from his home state - Sen. Paul Sarbanes. And Sen. Sarbanes, the Banking Committee's ranking Democrat, is an outspoken critic of Fed policy.
"I approach (Rep. Leach's views) with a certain amount of what I guess I'd call trepidation," Rep. Ehrlich said. "I guess I share Sen. Sarbanes' concerns in that respect."
Rep. Ehrlich's distrust of the Fed stems in part from the fact that a substantial portion of his support came from the small business community, which he describes as "extremely interest rate sensitive." As he was seeking support in his bid for a congressional seat, Rep. Ehrlich wandered through shopping malls, seeking out business owners.
"They were so amazed that someone running for Congress would take the time ... to hear their complaints about the business environment they are forced to operate in," Rep. Ehrlich said.
Rep. Chrysler, whose hobbies include drag racing and mountain climbing, may also give Rep. Leach some headaches on key banking issues.
Rep. Leach has introduced legislation that would repeal the Glass- Steagall Act, while leaving in place the Bank Holding Company Act barriers that separate banking and commerce. Rep. Chrysler said he is much more likely to support a rival bill, introduced by Rep. Richard Baker, that also does away with the ownership restrictions.
"Richard Baker is definitely on the right track," Rep. Chrysler said. "I definitely want to support him in that effort.
"I am for free enterprise and competitiveness," he added. "I think that's what gives us cost-effectiveness for the consumer, so I would lean more towards completely opening the system up. Let the players play."
Rep. Chrysler, a part-time mountain climber and drag racer, knows a little something about free enterprise.
Although he is not associated with the famous auto manufacturer, he nonetheless started two companies in the automobile industry. Starting from a little space in the corner of his living room, he created a business that installed convertible tops on General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler automobiles. The other, which he started in 1993, builds state-of-the-art police cruisers and batteries to power electric vehicles.
Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, is another new House Banking member with small bank experience, but his memories may be slightly darker than those of Rep. Chrysler.
Because of his 12 years in the Ohio state legislature, Rep. Ney carries with him an acute awareness of what can go wrong when safety and soundness is not paid enough heed. His experience is tempered by the 1985 collapse of Home State Savings Bank, a Cincinnati-based thrift. The failure touched off a banking crisis in the state that drove then Ohio Governor Richard R. Celeste to shut down another 70 thrifts.
"In a situation like that, I learned that you had better not move too quickly when you are dealing with depositors money," Rep. Ney said. "Public pressure was so great with thousands of citizens pushing the statehouse, but despite that we took our time and made the right decisions."
Due in part to the thrift debacle in his home state, Rep. Ney may provide a more cautious view of expanding banks' powers than Rep. Chrysler.
"You can't micromanage banks, but you really don't want to go too loosely in the regulatory process either," Rep. Ney said.
While Rep. Ney and his fellow freshmen lawmakers are still boning up on the issues, bank lobbyists are taking the opportunity to put their views on the freshmen class syllabus - and get to know the newcomers in the process.
"There's a big learning curve among the new members right now," said Debbie Shannon, senior legislative representative and House manager for the American Bankers Association.
"I've been wandering the halls of the House and just trying to consistently put my face in front of the new guys. I think everyone is still going through this test of getting to know them."
Ron Ence, chief lobbyist for the Independent Bankers Association of America, said he is pleased at the priority legislators like Rep. Ney attach to community banks
"He was very sympathetic to some of the community banking issues, and he was very interested in our regulatory relief package," said the IBAA's director of legislative affairs, referring to a measure circulated among lawmakers by the small-bank group.
Another new member of House Banking certain to be a target of affection for community bank groups is Rep. Jerry Weller. The only Illinois Republican on the committee, Rep. Weller views community banks as a key factor in the survival of a way of life he grew up with on his family's fifth-generation farm.
"One of my biggest goals is providing affordable credit for small businesses and agriculture," Rep. Weller said. "And, talking to bankers, who are often the leaders of communities, they tell me that this is impossible without a reduction in the burdensome paperwork requirements they have to deal with."