Key Retirements to Reshape House, Senate Committees

Elections are almost a year away, but the changing of the guard within the House and Senate banking committees is already under way.

The retirement of Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah, clears the way for Alfonse M. D'Amato of New York to take over as ranking Republican on the Senate Banking Committee - provided he wins reelection.

Sen. D'Amato had been uncharacteristically quiet for much of the year while he was the subject of an ethics committee probe. But the ethics panel cleared him in late July, and long-time observers say Sen. D'Amato seemed his old self at last month's House-Senate conference on the banking bill.

His effort to cap credit card rates went down, but not without a fight. And Sen. D'Amato succeeded in pushing through a number of his own amendments, including one that protected nonprofit organizations that lost money in the Freedom National Bank failure.

Bankers are unlikely to cheer the ascension of Sen. D'Amato. In addition to his campaign for credit card rate ceilings, Sen. D'Amato is viewed as an ally of the securities industry.

On the House side, Rep. Stephen L. Neal seems ready to step into the looming vacancy at the helm of the all-important House Banking subcommittee on financial institutions. The current chairman, Rep. Frank Annunzio, D-III., said last week he would retire after next year.

Rep. Neal, a North Carolina Democrat, was a tireless champion of interstate branching this year. As chairman of the domstic monetary policy subcommittee - a post he has held off and on since he arrived in Congress in 1975 - he has been regarded as a reliable Fed ally.

Limitation Explained

The courtly North Carolinian threw his hat in the ring the same day Rep. Annunzio announced his decision to retire.

In an interview, Rep. Neal said the chairman's power is limited: "It is the power to schedule." But he plans to use that power to advance issues he thinks important, such as branching.

Now, all Rep. Neal needs to do is win reelection. In the past, he has almost always run tight races.

As a result of favorable redistricting, he may finally begin to run up the comfortable margins common to House veterans.

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