For more than a decade, House Republicans were enlarged beyond their minority status by the simple fact that their party controlled the White House. That ended with the 1992 election, but Tony Cole is happier than ever.

"Now we are the loyal opposition, and in many respects that is an easier role to play," said the House Banking Committee's Republican staff director.

"We have scored some major legislative successes because these people in the White House don't seem to know what they are doing," he added, smiling as he fiddled with his ever-present pipe.

Freed from the necessity of supporting the White House, Republicans can now develop and pursue an agenda of their own choosing. And Mr. Cole's boss, Rep. Jim Leach of Iowa, is doing that in a big way.

Rep. Leach took on the administration's plan to consolidate the federal banking agencies early on, blasting it as the "presidentialization" of regulatory power.

At the same time, he elevated derivatives to a major issue, even before the recent, well-publicized reversals in that market.

The Republicans and their allies -- the banking industry and the Federal Reserve -- won big on regulatory consolidation.

Traditional Coalition

But many of the successes Mr. Cole delights in come the old-fashioned way, with Republicans joining en bloc with moderate Democrats on the House Banking Committee.

It is that coalition moderate Democrats and a united bloc of Republicans that time and again has bailed the banking industry out of its worst legislative quandaries.

Most recently, the banking committee Republicans joined with Rep. Floyd Flake, D-N.Y., to roll the administration on an issue near and dear to the heart of President Clinton: community development banks.

Despite heated opposition from Treasury, the group carved out a chunk of money for the Bank Enterprise Act, a program that provides deposit insurance rebates for banks that lend to low-income communities. The enterprise act funding is expected to be retained in the final bill.

Mr. Cole, 46, works for one of the most hands-on legislators on Capitol Hill. "It's incredible," he said of his boss's attention to detail. "He is indefatigable. I try to organize it so he's not nickle-and-dimed to death. But with legislative issues, he's fully informed. He makes the decisions, and we carry them out." Still, it would be a mistake to believe that Mr. Cole and his highly regarded staff are mere agents of Rep. Leach.

For all their protestations of innocence, staffers still play important policy roles, a fact that was much in evidence during recent negotiations over interstate branching and community development banks.

Talks on those two issues dragged on for months, conducted almost entirely by staff.

Although aides followed broad guidelines, they handled the details of the bills on their own.

And as lobbyists and staffers alike frequently note, with legislation the devil is in the details.

Mr. Cole joined the the Federal Reserve Board in 1975 after graduating from William and Mary law school, and worked as a staff attorney before moving on to legislative affairs in 1981.

After five years, he decided he had gone about as far as he was going to at the Fed and accepted an offer to go to work for Greg Wilson, his predecessor on the banking committee.

Complicating Mr. Cole's job is the divide within the Republican party. Rep. Leach represents moderate Republicanism, while a significant number of other GOP members on the banking committee hail from the party's more conservative wing.

For his part, Mr. Cole downplays the party's divisions. While never so deep as they were portrayed in the press, he argued said, the divisions that exist have begun to fade as one of the GOP's conservative leaders, Rep. Newt Gingrich of Georgia, moves to assume the House Republican leader's job.

But Mr. Cole said his job is to serve all the panel's Republicans, regardless of their political disposition.

"If one of our members has an amendment, and it passes in the House, we will do everything we can to make sure it survives in conference," he said.

Anthony F. Cole

Republican staff director

House Banking Committee

B 301-C, Rayburn Building

Washington, D.C.

202-225-7502

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