The House Commerce Committee's on-again, off-again vote on financial reform is likely to be postponed once more-greatly diminishing chances for House passage in 1997.
Commerce Committee Chairman Thomas Bliley insists his panel will begin voting this week, but congressional sources say privately that long- simmering disputes will prevent balloting until at least Oct. 28.
Hopes for quick passage were raised briefly on Oct. 9 when Rep. Michael Oxley, who chairs House Commerce's finance subcommittee, brokered a deal between bank and insurance groups on which products would be regulated by state officials.
But since then other disagreements have cropped up.
"The euphoria over Rep. Oxley's deal has faded and the blanket has been pulled off the bill's other problems," said one lobbyist involved in the negotiations.
After declaring the bill dead for this year on Sept. 12, House Republican leaders reversed themselves 12 days later and pledged to keep negotiations going. The renewed effort led to Rep. Oxley's compromise.
Though the road is littered with other obstacles, Commerce Committee staffers are racing to work out a deal.
"We are negotiating around the clock with the constant goal of being able to produce legislation as quickly as possible that not only will pass the committee but be cleared by the House," said a spokesman for Rep. Bliley.
Contentious issues still on the table include rules for bank operating subsidiaries, regulation of diversified financial holding companies, and plans to eliminate the thrift charter. Bankers have complained that the Commerce Committee plan restricts operating subsidiaries to activities already permitted for banks themselves. Also, the plan would allow securities firms that acquire banks to be regulated by the Securities and Exchange Commission, rather than stricter oversight by the Federal Reserve Board.
America's Community Bankers, Citicorp, and the National Association of Home Builders promise a fight if lawmakers don't drop a measure that would phase out the federal thrift charter.
Also, a big battle looms if Rep. Bliley holds a vote before working out a deal on bank insurance sales. Rep. John Dingell, the Commerce Committee's ranking Democrat, is insisting that the bill eliminate federal banking regulators' ability to preempt state insurance laws.
So far, Rep. Bliley has rebuffed Rep. Dingell's demands, which could lead to party line votes.
"If Republicans turn this into a partisan issue, they are going to have to hold every Republican on the committee and they are not going to be able to do that," said Karen Shaw Petrou, president of ISD/Shaw Inc.
Rep. Dingell has vowed to offer his own amendment if the committee leaders don't give in. Some committee Republicans, who have accused federal regulators of trampling over state insurance laws, would probably side with Rep. Dingell.
If Commerce doesn't vote until Oct. 28, just 11 days will be left before Congress adjourns Nov. 7.
In that time frame, the bill would have to clear the finance subcommittee and the full Commerce committee. After that, a GOP working group on financial modernization headed by House Republican Conference Chairman John Boehner would have to work out differences between the Commerce bill and legislation passed by House Banking in June. Finally, the bill would have to clear the Rules Committee before moving to the House floor.