WASHINGTON - After a month off, lawmakers return to work this week and are likely to face a pace as hectic as the session's first 100 days.
For the House and Senate Banking committees, the big issues will be bailing out the undercapitalized thrift fund, repealing the Glass-Steagall Act, and lifting some of the industry's regulatory burden.
Unlike the last seven months - during which House Banking took the lead - Senate Banking is where the early action is expected to occur.
Industry lobbyists are predicting legislation to rescue the Savings Association Insurance Fund will dominate Senate Banking this month.
That's because Committee Chairman Alfonse M. D'Amato, R-N.Y., is under the gun to come up with $2.4 billion in budget savings, and the fund fix is supposed to contribute to the cause. The deadline for committee action on the budget plan is Sept. 22.
Sen. D'Amato has embraced the Clinton administration's rescue plan, which would merge the bank and thrift insurance funds after raising $6.1 billion through a one-time fee on thrifts and forcing banks to pick up part of the annual interest payments on Financing Corp. bonds.
Bankers oppose this approach and will try to convince the Senate to consider broader legislation, that among other things, might give banks some of the powers contained in the thrift charter.
While House leaders are sympathetic, most lobbyists concede the Senate's narrow financial fix is likely to prevail.
Mending the thrift fund may be the only industry-related legislation Congress enacts this year. But that doesn't mean the wrangling won't continue over insurance powers.
Lawmakers spent a good part of the year fighting for approval for banks to sell insurance. The issue hung up House passage of Glass-Steagall reform as well as regulatory relief legislation.
Though the Senate Banking Committee may ignore Glass-Steagall reform this year, it is expected to turn its attention to the regulatory relief bill in late September.
Bank lobbyists said Sen. D'Amato is likely to strip out a provision exempting small banks from the Community Reinvestment Act. The lawmaker also may add a new CRA rating that would narrow the field of banks protected from community group protests.
And numerous sources said that no amount of lobbying will get the Senate Banking chief to change his mind.
"The chairman is just not going to go as far as bankers want him to on CRA," said an industry lobbyist. "Either he gets what he wants, or banks get squat."
In the House, Banking Committee Chairman Jim Leach, R-Iowa, is looking for a way to free regulatory relief and Glass-Steagall from the thorny insurance question.
This summer -- after powerful House leaders like Speaker Newt Gingrich agreed to protect the insurance agents in any banking legislation - Rep. Leach added a provision to the relief bill that would freeze the Comptroller of the Currency's ability to expand insurance powers of national banks.
His committee rival, Rep. Richard Baker, R-La., countered with an amendment that would allow banks to affiliate with insurance companies in most states.
Rep. Leach has proposed a compromise of sorts, a vote on the House floor, on both measures. He is expected to make this pitch again this week in a meeting with House leaders.
If it happens, industry lobbyists said, it could pave the way for House passage of both Glass-Steagall and regulatory relief under "suspension of the rules," a quick and easy way to vote on noncontroversial measures.
As for thrift fund legislation in the House, Rep. Bill McCollum, R-Fla., plans to introduce a new-and-improved comprehensive rescue soon. But the complicated wrinkles of merging the thrift and bank charters won't be quickly or easily ironed out.
Rep. McCollum, working with House Banking Democrats, is drafting a measure expected to involve rebuilding the thrift fund, merging it with the bank fund, and forcing thrifts to convert to bank charters.