WASHINGTON - Rep. Douglas K. Bereuter says that all he wants for the nation's financial institutions is a little relief.
The Nebraska Republican's quest yielded its first victory last year, when Congress folded a long list of regulatory relief provisions into the community development bank bill. The measures were all drawn from legislation drafted by Rep. Bereuter.
But that wasn't nearly enough for the ninth-term lawmaker, who is now a senior majority member on the House Banking Committee.
In March, Rep. Bereuter introduced a package of more than 80 separate measures that aim to pare all kinds of bank regulations and laws. And with the GOP in the driver's seat in this Congress, Rep. Bereuter says he is feeling pretty confident that unprecedented relief is on the way for banks - sooner rather than later.
"With this kind of an early start I think that the chances for us to send this bill to the President's desk this calendar year are very high - it's possible, in fact, that we may complete our work before the August recess," Rep. Bereuter says.
The only stumbling block the bill may face as it wends its way through the legislative process is the possibility that it could get appropriated to add momentum to another measure.
"It may well be that the only difficulty . . . I will have is that our legislation is so popular that we're going to want to move it onto some other piece of legislation to help carry it through," Rep. Bereuter says.
He described last year's bill as "the powerful engine" that helped push the community development bank bill to enactment.
Hearings on the Bereuter bill are scheduled to start Thursday.
His latest effort on the regulatory relief front aims to pare the paperwork generated by a variety of rules, from Truth-in-Lending to the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act.
But perhaps the most significant - and potentially controversial - provision in the measure aims to exempt small institutions from the Community Reinvestment Act.
The bill would exempt banks that have less than $100 million of assets and are located in communities of less than 30,000.
It would also allow banks with less than $250 million of assets to "self-certify" that they are complying with the CRA. Finally, the Bereuter bill shelters banks with at least satisfactory CRA ratings from community group protests.
The Clinton administration and banking regulators are not too happy about this. Last month, they approved changes to the 1977 law, telling Congress that it should give the new and improved CRA a chance to work before tinkering with it legislatively.
However, Rep. Bereuter says he is not especially impressed with the regulators' product.
"I think a significant part of it is window dressing, and not likely to be very effective in addressing the basic problems," Rep. Bereuter says. "The finalized rule promises far more in the way of reform and relief than it is likely to deliver."
Regulators have also expressed some reservations about a provision in the Bereuter bill that would transfer administration of the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to the Federal Reserve Board.
During recent Senate hearings on a companion measure introduced by Sens. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., and Connie Mack, R-Fla., Fed Governor Susan M. Phillips said that the provision - contained in both the House and Senate versions - simply wouldn't work.
"(Aspects of the act are) foreign to the board's central bank responsibilities," Ms. Phillips said.
Rep. Bereuter couldn't disagree more.
"The Fed may not want it, but they should have it, and it is Congress' role to give it to them," he says. "The proper tools and the capacity to handle Respa sits with the Fed.
While the reform package that Rep. Bereuter is currently sponsoring is much broader than the measure that passed during the prior Congress, last year's success arguably is more significant to the banking industry.
"It marked the first rollback in the regulatory burden facing banks," says Kenneth A. Guenther, executive vice president of the Independent Bankers Association of America.
"The measure was highly symbolic - the pendulum began swinging from regulatory overkill to a more sane regulatory world," Mr. Guenther adds. "I think that banking across the board is enormously in Bereuter's debt."
Rep. Bereuter's legislative agenda reverberates far outside the beltway, even in his hometown of Utica, Neb., where there is only one bank, with $17 million of assets, serving 730 residents.
"I think he keeps his ear to the ground and . . . has a good feel for the problems we face here," says Donald D. Olson, vice president at First National Bank of Utica.
"He knows that we don't need someone in Washington telling us to make loans, because if we didn't, we'd be out of business," Mr. Olson adds.
Rep. Bereuter says he is mulling the idea of moving into a more influential arena to advance his legislative itinerary: the Senate.
Polls taken in his home state give the lawmaker good odds of taking the seat being vacated by Democrat J. James Exon, Rep. Bereuter says.
However, the Republican takeover resulting from November's election is making deciding whether to aim higher more difficult for the lawmaker.
"We took the majority unexpectedly and I have a lot more opportunity to accomplish things in the House," Rep. Bereuter says. "So you have to balance the advantages of seniority with the fact that in some areas Senators can accomplish more."
Rep. Bereuter says that he expects to announce a decision sometime this month, and, if he meets with success in his run for the Senate, he will very likely seek a seat on the Senate Banking Committee.