The usual harmony among House Banking Committee Democrats and Republicans yielded to partisan rancor during a vote last week.

Before unsuccessfully attempting to insert an amendment to add consumer privacy protections to a bill on Wednesday, Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash., criticized the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act for failing to adequately protect the privacy of medical records.

He then made the critical mistake of inviting comment from other members of the committee.

"I want to yield to anyone on this committee who says that banks should be able to get your life insurance physical information, even when you told your life insurance company not to give it to the banks," he said.

Rep. Inslee had barely finished his sentence when Chairman Jim Leach, R-Iowa, spoke up.

"You may yield to yourself," the committee chairman said. He called attention to a House vote last year in which Rep. Inslee voted to remove a provision from the financial reform bill to prevent the transfer of consumers' medical information - a provision that Rep. Leach had inserted.

"Your party insisted that that be struck from the bill on the House floor. It is one of the most extraordinary votes in my time in the House of Representatives," Rep. Leach said. "So if you say 'Who is it that thinks that?', if you [look] at the votes of the House of Representatives, you will find where you stood."But that did not stop reaching across the aisle on other matters.

Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Banking Committee, and Rep. John J. LaFalce of New York, the ranking Democrat on the House Banking Committee, introduced legislation last week to establish a test program for low-cost checking accounts. Rep. Leach joined as a co-sponsor of the House bill.

President Clinton unveiled the proposal for the so-called "First Accounts" at a January speech in New York as part of a broader plan to bring more Americans into the economic mainstream. The President has requested $30 million from Congress for fiscal 2001 so that Treasury Department officials can create incentives for banks to offer affordable accounts, automated teller machines, and financial planning services in underserved areas.

The First Accounts Act of 2000, Rep. LaFalce said in a press statement, is designed to reduce the dependency of low-income workers on high-cost financial intermediaries, such as check-cashers. "Every American, regardless of income or background, should have should have affordable access to the mainstream financial services that most Americans enjoy," said Rep. LaFalce.


There's no shortage of Capitol Hill lawmakers willing to carry the banner to raise deposit insurance coverage to $200,000 per account.Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., and Rep. Joel Hefley, R-Colo., introduced companion legislation last week to double the current $100,000 guarantee and index future increases to inflation. The two lawmakers want to recalculate the maximum level of account coverage every three years, starting Jan. 1, 2001. Because the coverage has not been adjusted since 1980, the first adjustment would increase coverage to about $197,000 per account.


Rep. Hefley said in a statement that he crafted the bill because "true competitive equity cannot be achieved unless depositors at community banks are afforded the same protections as depositors at large financial institutions."Not to be outdone, Rep. Marge Roukema, R-N.J., chairwoman of the House Banking Committee's financial institutions subcommittee, said she is developing a similar measure, which she plans to introduce this summer. Besides initially raising coverage to as much as $200,000, she wants to index the insurance limit to inflation to make future increases automatic and increase insurance of municipal deposits to a yet-to-be-determined amount.


Comptroller of the Currency John D. Hawke Jr. is available on video. A 21-minute documentary on the history of the regulatory agency and the national banking system, titled "On Solid Ground," turns Mr. Hawke and some of his predecessors into video stars. It also includes rare archival footage from the agency. The $15 video can be ordered online at www.occ.treas.gov/pubs1.htm, or by calling (202) 874-4960.Alison Crombie has joined the Independent Community Bankers of America to run its political action committee, ICBPAC.

Formerly political affairs manager at the American Trucking Association, Ms. Crombie succeeds Alexandra Maroulis-Cronmiller, who became membership director at America's Community Bankers.

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