All the key players in Congress have staked out their positions on financial reform. The only question left is what the Clinton administration is willing to endorse, and how hard it plans to push for legislation.
Treasury's blueprint for action is due on Capitol Hill by March 31, and with Secretary Robert E. Rubin beginning a tour of Asia April 2, industry sources hoped the department would deliver this week. But with Congress in recess for Easter until April 6, the administration's report probably won't be released for another two weeks.
That's right, "report." The Treasury Department is not expected to deliver actual legislation anytime soon, but Mr. Rubin will outline where the administration stands.
While nothing will be official until then, it is clear that the department will urge Congress to permit at least limited mergers between banks and nonfinancial firms.
In speeches over the last several months, Under Secretary John D. Hawke Jr. has made the case for aggressive action.
"I've been saying the elimination of full-scale barriers between banking and commerce is necessary to bring the major players in the financial services industry under a common set of guidelines," he said in an interview Friday.
Though the Treasury Department may support full-scale affiliation among financial and nonfinancial companies as permitted by Senate Banking Committee Chairman Alfonse M. D'Amato's bill, Mr. Hawke last week called that position a "lightning rod for controversy."
So it's likely that the Clinton administration will endorse a compromise. Legislation introduced by Rep. Marge Roukema would allow nonfinancial operations to account for 25% of a bank holding company's business. The New Jersey Republican's plan is backed by the Alliance for Financial Modernization-a coalition of banking, insurance, and securities trade groups.
"It makes a lot of sense," Mr. Hawke said of Rep. Roukema's bill last week. "It does the job that needs to get done to restructure the financial services industry."
The Treasury Department's commitment to financial modernization is critical to passing legislation in this Congress, say many on Capitol Hill and in the industry. In fact, Sen. D'Amato recently encouraged the administration to "lead the way."
The administration's determination, however, is difficult to predict. While Mr. Hawke has been a vociferous advocate for reform, it's unclear whether Mr. Rubin and President Clinton will push as hard. The Treasury secretary has made little mention of financial modernization, and President Clinton has shown no sign that he's aware of the debate.
The White House's intentions also are hard to gauge because one of its closest allies on Capitol Hill, Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-Md., is dead set against allowing any mixing of banking and commerce.
The Senate Banking Committee's ranking Democrat has been aggressively lobbying the administration and vows to block any legislation that breaches that wall.
With the Treasury Department putting the final touches on its plan, key supporters of reform have applied last-minute pressure of their own.
In a hearing last week, Sen. D'Amato, obviously concerned that banks are satisfied with their regulatory gains and not pushing hard enough for reform, threatened to block regulators from expanding bank securities powers.
Pushing in the opposite direction is House Banking Committee Chairman Jim Leach. Last week, he urged big banks to join him in lobbying the Treasury Department to put strict limits on mergers between banks and nonfinancial firms.