House Commerce Committee Chairman Thomas J. Bliley Jr. isn't afraid to boast. Despite many failed attempts by other lawmakers, the nine-term Virginia Republican has vowed that his panel will approve a financial modernization plan in September that will make it through the House of Representatives. "We will pass a bill that cuts rough justice among the parties, based on what will work in the real world," he said at a July 25 hearing. Although congressional sources said the bill's chances remain dicey, they agree that Rep. Bliley's prediction is more than mere braggadocio. By building upon the Commerce Committee's traditional characteristics-a powerful chairman, strong ties to the leadership, and a willingness to strike deals quickly-Rep. Bliley may succeed, they said. In the last two years, his panel has built an impressive record by pushing complex, controversial legislation through Congress. Examples include telecommunications reform, overhauling of clean water and food quality laws, and streamlining of securities litigation rules. "Telecommunications reform was one of the most mammoth pieces of legislation ever tackled, and they got it through in one Congress," said Jack Burkman, a lobbyist for the Smith-Free Group in Washington and a former congressional staffer. The Commerce Committee's success, surprisingly, is due in large part to its heavy work load and wide jurisdiction, several sources said. Nearly every major bill with a business component must be approved by the committee, leaving little time for endless rounds of negotiation. "We've got everything from AIDS to zebra mussels," Rep. Bliley said in a recent speech. In his gambit to get financial modernization to the House floor, Rep. Bliley is expected to control all the deal making, wielding the same political muscle as his predecessor, Michigan Democrat John Dingell. "The Commerce Committee has a very centralized decision-making authority," said a staffer for Rep. Rick Lazio, R-N.Y., who is a member of that panel and of the Banking Committee. "It has so many issues that members back him on most issues because they soon may need his support on a completely different matter," said Edward L. Yingling, chief lobbyist of American Bankers Association. The committee's impressive legislative record has helped Rep. Bliley build ties to House Speaker Newt Gingrich and other GOP leaders, which will come in handy if industry groups try to block a vote on the legislation. Most sources expect the committee to approve with very little debate the financial reform changes that Rep. Bliley's staffers will draft during the August break. Those changes are expected to tighten regulation of bank securities and insurance sales, although a staffer said Rep. Bliley will keep the specifics under wraps until shortly before the vote to protect his plan from attack. Steve Judge, lobbyist for the Securities Industry Association, predicted that the Commerce Committee's vote-unlike the Banking Committee's markup in June-wouldn't include a flurry of amendments on bank insurance and securities sales, consumer protections, or other technical points. Mr. Yingling agreed. "We have to work as hard as we can right now because we may not have a chance to get many amendments offered when the committee votes in September," he said.
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