A couple of remarkably long days of deliberations on regulatory relief legislation last week gave the Washington banking community some new insights into the mix of people and politics on the House Banking Committee.

While the committee's work on the 91 listed amendments officially began with a half-day of votes a week from last Friday, the brunt of the labor was spread over Tuesday and Wednesday - both of which stretched for more than 14 long, often excruciating hours.

"When we gather in the future to tell our war stories, this will be one of them," said Lamar Smith, vice president of government relations for Visa USA.

"The freewheeling, long, and contentious debates - with the chairman gaveling so hard the veins were popping out of his neck - gave an insight into this committee we hadn't had all year," said another lobbyist.

While at times the debate on an amendment would stretch for as long as two hours, a number of sources nevertheless agreed that a lot was accomplished.

"Historically, this committee has spent a lot more time and produced a lot less results than they did during this markup," said Paul Quinn, Washington counsel to Fleet Financial Group.

"We had a pretty healthy discussion on the merits of the proposals ... That has not always been the tradition," Mr. Quinn added.

A number of committee watchers also noted that, in the face of a bill that watered down a number of laws held dear by Democrats - the Community Reinvestment Act, Truth-in-Lending - the minority managed to rally and pull off some substantial victories.

Indeed, nearly half of the 27 amendments that succeeded during the deliberations were sponsored or cosponsored by Democrats.

"They were good at holding their members together and attracting a couple of Republicans, so they ended up being successful on some amendments that surprised people," said William Binzel, director of government relations for MasterCard International.

Some also noticed that the lack of experience on the Republican side - 21 of the 27 GOP members have served less than two terms - gave the Democrats a leg up.

"With this kind of subject matter, there is a very steep learning curve," said one bank lobbyist. "The depth of knowledge on the Democratic side and the lack thereof on the Republican side was really reflected in the debate during this markup."

Observers also got a clearer picture of the 18 House Banking newcomers - 17 Republicans, and a lone Democrat.

"They certainly felt comfortable getting into the debate," said a bank group lobbyist. "And they were voting all over the place - on a lot of cases they seemed to actually just follow their own convictions, instead of any party line."

That seemed to be a theme for some of the panel's veterans as well. Indeed, House Banking Committee Chairman Jim Leach voted with the Democrats and against a majority of his own party members on a number of amendments.

When two Democratic provisions came up to strike language that upped consumer liability for credit and debit card losses from unauthorized use, Rep. Leach voted against his party both times. The two amendments passed by narrow margins - 24 to 18 on the debit card provision, 23 to 21 on the credit card measure.

Rep. Charles E. Schumer, who sponsored the two amendments, was visibly surprised by his unexpected victories.

"Over the course of the last two days, Leach voted with the Democrats more often than former chairman Henry Gonzalez had voted with the Republicans in the last 10 years," said a banking industry lobbyist after the regulatory relief legislation passed Thursday morning.

When the debate got too serious, such as during an intense couple of hours late Tuesday night spent sparring over amendments that would restore the Justice Department's ability to pursue fair-lending cases, there was a need for some comic relief.

Enter Rep. Sonny Bono.

The freshman Republican from California, apparently believing that the debate was over employment discrimination, wanted to know whether "the guy who's hiring" is protected from reverse discrimination.

"I own a little restaurant, and I make pasta. I like it," Rep. Bono said. "I can't cook all the time, so I hired someone to cook for me." He explained how he had been sued for discrimination after he fired the cook for being unable to whip up a decent plate of noodles.

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