WASHINGTON - Keeping tabs on federal regulators who are executing the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999 will preoccupy House Financial Services Committee Chairman Michael G. Oxley, R-Ohio, and his subcommittee leaders, who released detailed agendas at a news conference Wednesday.
Surprisingly, however, Rep. Oxley said it is "far too premature to do anything more on the privacy front." Gramm-Leach-Bliley mandated sweeping new financial privacy rules that take effect in July. Rep. Oxley said he wanted "to see how Gramm-Leach-Bliley really works, how consumers and industry respond to it."
Rep. Spencer Bachus, chairman of the financial institutions and consumer credit subcommittee, said one of his priorities is the Federal Reserve's plan to let banks to serve as real estate brokers - a power implied but not expressly granted in Gramm-Leach-Bliley.
The Alabama Republican has asked regulators to hold off so he can have a hearing on the question. He has asked whether letting banks sell real estate is a risky blurring of the line between banking and commerce.
He also plans to tackle deposit insurance reform, along with many other issues confronting community bankers. "They're squeezed by a lot of competitors that don't have the same regulatory challenges," such as funding challenges and how to make small banks safer and sounder, he said.
Rep. Bachus said he plans to hold a joint hearing on controversial merchant banking rules with Rep. Richard H. Baker, who chairs the capital markets, insurance, and government-sponsored enterprises subcommittee.
Rep. Baker, R-La., is expected to release his agenda today. However, he has said he plans to again push for tougher oversight of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
Rep. Baker also noted that while he may draft legislation to create a national insurance charter, the "work would only be precautionary if the problems are not solved on the state level," he said. "I feel strongly that insurance is a state regulatory matter."
The full committee, according to Rep. Oxley, will tackle legislation to reform bankruptcy laws, reduce securities fees, and allow banks to offer interest on business checking accounts. The committee also plans to keep an eye on privacy issues, state insurance policies, housing availability and pricing, and the Export-Import Bank.
Rep. Oxley joked that Gramm-Leach-Bliley could have been passed years earlier if the House had combined the jurisdiction over financial services sooner. Last month GOP leaders decided to expand the old House Banking Committee to include oversight of securities and insurance - two businesses that used to fall under the Commerce Committee.
He also joked about the panel's size - 70 members. "Within the physical limitations of this committee room, it will be a bit like stuffing 10 pounds of potatoes in a 5-pound bag, but we will get to know each other very well.
"My goal is to find agreement wherever we can," he added. "Where we cannot agree, we will vote, decide, and move on."
Also on Wednesday, the committee's Democrats announced their leaders. Rep. John J. LaFalce of New York is the full committee's ranking minority member.
Rep. Maxine Waters of California is the ranking minority member on the financial institutions panel, while Rep. Paul Kanjorski of Pennsylvania holds that spot on the capital markets panel. Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts is top Democrat on the housing and community opportunity subcommittee, while Rep. Bernard Sanders of Vermont (an Independent member of the House) will be the ranking minority on the international monetary policy and trade panel.
Rep. Carolyn Maloney of New York leads the Democrats on the domestic monetary policy, technology, and economic growth subcommittee, while Rep. Luis Gutierrez of Illinois is the ranking minority member on the oversight panel.
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