Rep. Jim Leach, the incoming chairman of the House Banking Committee, will announce today his ambitious agenda for the next congressional session.
In a memorandum to committee members, the Iowa Republican put the Glass-Steagall Act at the top of his list, telling GOP lawmakers that "legislation is needed to respond to the rapidly changing financial services market."
On Friday, Rep. Leach released the official list of committee members, and announced who will head the subcommittees.
Rep. Marge Roukema, R-N.J., a 14-year veteran of the committee, will head the powerful financial institutions and consumer credit subcommittee.
Rep. Richard Baker, R-La., will head the new capital markets, securities, and government sponsored enterprises panel. Federal Home Loan Bank System reform will be handled by Rep. Baker, who has been on the committee for six years.
The other three new subcommittee chairs are all relatively new members.
Entering their second term on House Banking are Rep. Rick A. Lazio, R-N.Y., who will lead the housing and community opportunity subcommittee; Rep. Spencer T. Bachus, R-Ala., who will head up the general oversight panel; and Rep. Michael Castle, R-Del., the new chairman of the domestic and international monetary policy subcommittee.
Legislation being drafted by Rep. Leach's staff has been kept tightly under wraps. However, some who have seen the Glass-Steagall Act reform bill said early fears of sky-high firewalls - safeguards intended to protect insured deposits - were overblown.
"It's more like the firewalls included in the 1991 bill, but with more discretion for banks," said one. The House Banking Committee approved a bill repealing Glass-Steagall in 1991, but the measure died on the House floor.
No. 2 on Rep. Leach's list is legislation to consolidate the federal banking agencies. Rep. Leach introduced a consolidation bill during the last Congress, and the Clinton administration pushed a broader bill.
The incoming committee chairman is preparing legislation now that would merge the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Office of Thrift Supervision, while leaving the other agencies largely intact.
Although regulatory consolidation has never fared well in the past, it could have a better shot this year.
Rep. Leach downplayed one issue that was a high priority for his predecessor, Rep. Henry B. Gonzalez, D-Tex.: The GOP lawmaker said the Federal Reserve system was making progress in moving internally to respond to congressional concerns.
Other issues raised by Rep. Leach in the memo include:
* Fair Trade in Financial Services. A bill authorizing the Treasury Department to retaliate against countries that discriminate against U.S. financial companies died in the last Congress, but Rep. Leach said the measure could have a better chance of passing next year.
* Federal Home Loan Bank reforms. The administration is expected to submit legislation overhauling the system's membership requirements and its capital structure, and the banking committee is expected to give it serious consideration.
* Reform of the municipal securities market. Rep. Leach said the panel will likely consider legislation reforming the market, including measures to require disclosure of political contributions by underwriters to local officials.
* Counterfeiting. Rep. Leach said Congress would likely take up legislation, considered without success in the last Congress, to combat counterfeiting. In his memo, he expressed concern over reports that U.S. currency is being massively counterfeited by countries unfriendly to the United States.
The incoming chairman also said the panel would deal with reauthorization bills to replenish lending authority for the International Development Bank Association and to provide capital for the Asian Development Bank.
Among other items, Rep. Leach also promised hearings on the condition of the bank and thrift insurance funds and the state of the Resolution Trust Corp. He also pledged to continue his investigation into the Whitewater affair.