WASHINGTON - Banks won a sizable victory last week when the House Banking Committee voted 36 to 14 to provide financial incentives for community reinvestment and then adopted a package of regulatory relief measures on a voice vote.
But while those actions seemed to belie the liberal impression most bankers have of the banking committee, few observers believe those votes can be duplicated on a regular basis.
"That vote was probably the high water mark for that coalition." said Stephen J. Verdier, a lobbyist for the Independent Bankers Association of America.
Many analysts believe the 36-to-14 vote to fund the Bank Enterprise Act reflects the prestige of its sponsors. Rep. Floyd Flake, D-N.Y., and Rep. Jim Leach, R-Iowa.
"What it comes down to is that people like Floyd Flake," said James J. Butera, a financial institutions lobbyist.
Mr. Flake, a black Democrat who is heavily involved in community redevelopment in his Queens, N.Y., district, "gave liberals cover" to vote for the measure, said another lobbyist.
Moreover, community groups say they didn't lobby against the Flake-Leach provision, which they oppose, because the Clinton administration assured them they could deal with it.
"They basically said, don't worry, it's under control," said Chris Lewis, the banking lobbyist for the Consumer Federation of America.
Building a Coalition
Still, the vote on the Flake-Leach measure gives bankers "a list to work with" in approaching future votes, said Joseph Belew, president of the Consumer Bankers Association.
If all 20 Republicans hold together, banks need pick up only six of the panel's 30 Democrats to obtain a majority.
Some panel Democrats, such as Rep. Stephen L. Neal, D-N.C., Rep. John J. LaFalce, D-N.Y., and Rep. Bill Orton, D-Utah, have often been with the industry on issues involving new regulatory requirements.
Others, including Rep. Paul Kanjorski, D-Pa.. and Rep. Larry LaRocco, D-Idaho, frequently side with the industry.
Among the panel's freshmen, a number appear sympathetic to the industry, including Rep. Peter Deutsch, D-Fla., and Rep. Ron Klink, D-Pa.
The action on regulatory relief was even more surprising to some observers, coming as it did without dissent - and even with the support of Chairman Henry B. Gonzalez, D-Tex., who has long been skeptical of the banking industry's arguments.
"I was flabbergasted by Chairman Gonzalez's vote," said the Consumer Federation's Mr. Lewis.
One indication of whether a "moderate majority" exists on the banking committee will come Thursday, when the panel votes on amendments to the Fair Credit Reporting Act.
A key issue for financial institutions is whether states should be preempted from passing more stringent laws. "I don't think the moderate coalition will be enough to put preemption in the bill." said Karen Shaw, president of the Institute for Strategy Development.