WASHINGTON - Lawmakers postponed at the last minute Wednesday a conference committee meeting on digital signatures legislation, but financial industry lobbyists said they remain upbeat that the bill could be approved soon.
A spokeswoman for Rep. Thomas J. Bliley Jr., chairman of the panel, said the meeting and possible vote were postponed because of negotiators' scheduling conflicts. No official makeup date was given, but industry and other sources said that lawmakers had tentatively rescheduled for Thursday.
Some sources blamed the delay on a Democratic backlash to the Republican compromise proposal made this week. House and Senate Democrats and the Treasury Department rallied against the GOP plan with a 13-page counteroffer on Wednesday.
"It's bad for the consumer," said an aide to Rep. John D. Dingell, the ranking Democrat on the House Commerce Committee. "It is unacceptable in its current form."
The Democratic plan proposes a series of additional consumer protections. It would require customers to consent online to receive federally mandated disclosures to ensure they have the proper computer hardware and software. It also would prevent companies from charging fees to customers who withdraw consent for electronic disclosures if they are forced to do so because of technological snafus. It would prohibit telephone calls from qualifying as legitimate electronic contracts or disclosure mechanisms.
Democrats also want to broaden the list of disclosures that must be sent on paper, including the addition of notices of actions to collect debts and of changes in a customer's mortgage servicer. Their plan would also eliminate a provision favored by Senate Banking Committee Chairman Phil Gramm that would let regulators remove disclosures from the paper-only list after three years. "Any decision on this issue must be reserved for the Congress," the plan said.
Also, the Democrats' plan would give regulators more authority to issue interpretative guidelines on the law and write rules dealing with unanticipated consequences.
Sources called the plan a brief setback and said further negotiations could lead to a resolution soon.
"That would appear to slow things down," said Edward L. Yingling, chief lobbyist for the American Bankers Association, but "both sides have said they are willing to meet even late in the night" to hash out a deal.