Don't blink or you might miss Rep. David T. Dreier's financial services reform proposal.
The California Republican pitches his "bare-bones bill" as the answer under everyone's noses to the annual political stalemate preventing the banking, securities, and insurance industries from combining.
Unlike the two other House bills, which number hundreds of pages each, the Dreier bill is a concise four pages. Introduced near the end of the session last year, it would reform the financial system in three easy steps:
Tear down the wall between commercial and investment banking.
Let banks and insurance firms affiliate within a bank holding company.
Permit insurance companies to keep investments in commercial enterprises even if they affiliate with banks.
No fuss, no muss. Nothing on functional regulation, the thrift charter, mixing banking and commerce, rolling back national bank insurance powers, and other messy issues to bog it down.
"Taking a simple, clear-albeit incremental-step may be the only thing we can do at this point," Rep. Dreier said in an interview last week.
Could it really be that easy? Appealing as the bill might be to frustrated lobbyists, many observers said: "No way."
"It is wishful thinking that you could do something so simple," said Robert M. Pribble, a financial services consultant with KPMG Peat Marwick.
Democrats will not grant expanded bank powers without extracting enhanced consumer protections, and the American Bankers Association holds elimination of the thrift charter too dear, he said.
Karen Shaw Petrou, president the ISD/Shaw Inc. financial services consulting firm here, called the proposal "simple, elegant, and D.O.A."
Bert Ely-a financial services consultant in Alexandria, Va., who spares no opportunity to extol the Dreier bill-disagreed. He calls it the Gettysburg Address of banking legislation: short and effective.
"The thrust of this bill is on knocking down the barriers and leveling the playing field," Mr. Ely said. "Sometimes you've got to step back and say we have to go back to fundamentals."
Even skeptics said that Rep. Dreier, vice chairman of the House Rules Committee and a former Banking Committee member, has to be taken seriously. The reform bills that passed the Banking and Commerce committees last year have to go through Rules before a vote on the floor.
Co-sponsors of the bill are Rep. Sue Myrick, R-N.C., a Rules member, and Rep. Richard H. Baker, R-La., chairman of Banking's subcommittee on capital markets.
In the interview, Rep. Dreier touted the support he has received from America's Community Bankers, the California Bankers Association, and the Western League of Savings Institutions.
"What's not to like?" asked Paul A. Schosberg, president of America's Community Bankers. It "peels off layers of controversy" and preserves the thrift charter, he said.
But insurance industry groups complain that the bill does not explain how these merged financial companies would be regulated.
The bill creates "a regulatory vacuum," said Robert A. Rusbuldt, senior vice president of government affairs for the Independent Insurance Agents of America. "It is going to become a massive turf war" among regulators, he said.
The securities industry isn't too keen on the bill either through its trade group is still studying it. As for the ABA, it focused on the bills that have already passed Banking and Commerce, chief lobbyist Edward L. Yingling said. "It is just too late to have another starting point" if a bill is to be passed this year, he said.