WASHINGTON - Chairman Jim Leach's proposal to shift a $16 billion tab from banks and thrifts to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac appears to be facing strong opposition within the House Banking Committee.
Democrats were expected to line up solidly against the proposal, which Rep. Leach unveiled Friday. "It's a tax on middle-class housing," said an aide to Rep. Bruce Vento, D-Minn., predicting strong opposition on his side of the aisle.
And the panel's senior Republicans, whose support is crucial, also voiced unhappiness with the plan.
"I have grave concerns about it," said Rep. Marge Roukema, R-N.J., chairwoman of the panel's key subcommittee on financial institutions. "This is going to engender a lot of opposition."
However, more junior Republicans, while skeptical, said Rep. Leach could gain ground if he "puts on the hard sell."
Estimates of the impact on mortgage rates could be crucial. "If the numbers turn out to be low, you might see some members come on board," said an aide to Edward Royce, D-Calif.
Rep. Leach wants the secondary-market agencies to pay for the Financing Corp., or Fico, bonds that were issued in an early effort to rescue the thrift insurance fund. By removing the obligation from banks and thrifts, Rep. Leach hoped to drum up support for a separate bill that would repeal the Glass-Steagall Act and ease regulatory burdens on banks.
The Glass-Steagall package advanced in the House Tuesday, as Rep. Leach's staff completed negotiations with the Commerce Committee on provisions spelling out what securities activities must be moved out of the bank.
While details of the agreement were unknown, Edward L. Yingling, chief lobbyist for the American Bankers Association, said he is concerned that the new provisions will be much tougher on banks than anticipated.
For example, the bill may require banks to move municipal revenue bond underwriting into separately capitalized holding company affiliates. Bankers have argued that such activity should be permitted within the bank.
A Banking Committee spokesman declined to comment on the results of the talks, but the fact that an agreement has been reached is significant. Talks on the "push out" provisions were a major obstacle to House floor action.
Meanwhile, Rep. Leach scheduled a hearing next Tuesday on his proposal to require Fannie and Freddie - formally the Federal National Mortgage Association and Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp. - to help pay for the thrift fund rescue.
Last week, the Iowa Republican had asked committee members to tell him by Friday whether they support the plan. But the negative reaction prompted him to hold hearings. Even so, the committee chairman scheduled a meeting late yesterday afternoon to see if there was enough interest to justify the hearing.
Banking Committee members last week were surprised by his new proposal and now face a difficult choice of favoring either the banking or the home building/mortgage industry.
Opponents of the new plan argue that new fees on Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae will lead to higher mortgage costs. Joining Fannie and Freddie in opposition this week were other power groups with an interest in housing: the National Association of Home Builders, the Mortgage Bankers Association of America, and the National Association of Realtors.
At the same time, Rep. Leach doesn't appear to have won over bank groups with his new plan. The Bankers Roundtable, for one, is maintaining its opposition. "We didn't have anyone call us and say 'this is heaven on earth' or 'this is terrible,' " said Alfred Pollard, a lobbyist for the group.