WASHINGTON -- The House Banking Committee is going to look a lot different when the 104th Congress starts up in January.
New Republican committee members outnumber the returning lawmakers by a ratio of nearly two to one, and all but two of the newcomers are freshmen. (The others moved to from other panels.)
Nearly half of the new lawmakers have never held elected office before, and, if you figure in sophomores, 70% of GOP members on the committee have served less than two terms on Capitol Hill.
"In my experience, this is unprecedented," said Philip Corwin, lobbyist for the American Bankers Association. "It's really amazing how many are freshmen, so who knows what we are dealing with. Most did not run on how they felt about Glass-Steagall or regulatory consolidation, so who knows."
Some observers said the influx of new faces on the panel will make it much easier for incoming House Banking Committee Chairman Jim Leach to move his agenda forward.
"This gives Leach a lot of power," said John Rippey, legislative director for the Bankers Roundtable. "Traditionally, if you're in the majority, you vote with the chairman. But that goes doubly for freshmen. He'll have a tremendous voting bloc going into any mark- up."
Industry representatives are still trying to figure out where their allies are on the new Republican roster, which includes an ex-TV sports broadcaster (Rep. J.D. Hayworth, of Arizona), a onetime football player (former University of Oklahoma star quarterback J.C. Watts), and half of the erstwhile singing duo Sonny and Cher (Rep. Sonny Bono of California).
However, some freshman lawmakers on the panel have already been singled out by banking lobbyists as potential "friends" of banks.
"Jerry Weller is a bright spot on the committee for us," said Ron Ence, director of legislative affairs for the Independent Bankers Association of America, which represents community banks.
"Illinois is an important community banking state. It's hard to come out of Illinois politics and not be sensitive to needs of community banks," he added.
Rep. Weller served six years in the Illinois House on panels not closely related to banking.
Rep. Bob Ney is another new GOP committee member who, because of his state-level experience, may prove to be a boon to the banking industry.
The Ohio Republican served as a state representative on the institutions committees in 1981 and 1982 before serving as chairman of the Ohio Senate Finance Committee from 1984 to the present. While in the state Senate, Rep. Ney also was a member of the Financial Institutions and Insurance Committee.
"He brings so many years of state-level government experience with financial institutions with him that he'll be quite an asset to the committee," said William N. Morgan, senior vice president of the Ohio Bankers Association.
"He's done an outstanding job of bringing various factions together on issues -- he's a real consensus builder."
John Bowers, executive vice president of the Maryland Bankers Association, sees a conservative ally in Congressmanelect Robert L. Ehrlich, who had been a member of the Maryland House of Delegates since 1987.
"He's going to bring the view that there is an appropriate role for regulation and oversight to insure safety and soundness, and then there is that element we have experienced from backlash of the S&L crisis that has been overkill," Mr. Bowers said.
The only new faces on the Democratic side of the committee are Rep. Gary L. Ackerman, a New Yorker entering his seventh term in the House, and Texan Ken Bentsen, the nephew of Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen. Congressman-elect Bentsen has never held elected office before.
Rep. Ackerman isn't such a new face, however; he served on the banking committee two years ago.
In the weeks leading up to the Democratic caucus decisions on committee assignments, it had been rumored that two other former committee members would reclaim their seniority on banking: Rep. Bart Gordon, D.-Tenn., who lost a seat on the Rules Committee, and Rep. Jim Moran, D.-Va., who was forced to give up his seat on Appropriations.
Rep. Gordon, who will start his sixth term in January, could have claimed a ranking spot on one of the subcommittees, had he been allowed to move ahead of less senior members of the panel.
Ultimately, however, the Democrats refused to allow members who lost seats on the exclusive committees, including Rules, Appropriations, and Ways and Means, to reclaim past seniority on other panels.
However, Democrats like Rep. Moran will retain their seniority on Appropriations and Ways and Means, and will get first crack at any new openings on the panels. Rules is a leadership committee, and the leadership of each party decides who sits on the panel.
Rep. Moran decided against rejoining the banking committee, and will instead be on the International Relations and Government Reform and Oversight committees. Rep. Gordon will go to the Commerce Committee, formerly known as Energy and Commerce.
Most bank and industry trade group lobbyists are still groping for clues about what makes the 16 committee freshmen tick, and they may have to wait until voting records start to take shape.
"They have all been very caught up in their own campaigns," said Randy McFarlane, government relations director for the Savings and Community Bankers of America. "When everyone's a candidate, they always listen sympathetically to what you have to say. Right now, we are far from having our doggies corralled."