Key House lawmakers were putting the finishing touches on a pro-industry compromise on privacy Friday, teeing up the bill up for a vote this week.
"The last remaining piece of the puzzle is privacy," said Robert A. Rusbuldt, executive vice president for the Independent Insurance Agents of America.
House Republican leaders on Friday released a 390-page reform bill that spells out deals on every major dispute except privacy. Most banks, insurance, and securities companies are expected to support the legislation, provided limits on information sharing are not too strict.
Some lobbyists were reserving final judgment as they leafed through the legislation.
"It is just a lot to go through and look at what is finally there," said Robert R. Davis, director of government relations for America's Community Bankers.
Others had firmed up their positions by Friday.
"Assuming that the privacy matter is resolved in an acceptable manner and there are no new developments, we are going to support the bill," said Edward L. Yingling, chief lobbyist for the American Bankers Association.
Yet criticisms are mounting on issues beyond privacy.
The Independent Community Bankers of America is upset about last-minute changes on insurance and unitary thrifts. House Republican leaders agreed late Thursday to let commercial companies buy grandfathered unitary thrifts if the Federal Reserve Board and Office of Thrift Supervision approve.
"We are very displeased by the direction this bill has taken," said John H. Hanley, the ICBA's director of legislative strategy.
Mr. Yingling said the ABA was "disappointed" but would try to change that provision during the House-Senate negotiations on the bill.
Commerce Committee members remain irked that the bill would grant broad powers to bank operating subsidiaries.
The panel's oversight subcommittee held a hearing Friday to highlight the dangers of operating subsidiaries by reexamining allegations that the broker-dealer unit of NationsBank Corp. misled customers in 1993 and 1994 about the riskiness of mutual fund investments.
Some committee members criticized the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency for failing to properly oversee NationsSecurities and similar operations.
"Given this record, expanding op-subs would be reckless," said Commerce Chairman Thomas J. Bliley Jr., who is expected to offer an amendment that would scale back powers for bank subsidiaries.
"The NationsSecurities case was not an isolated incident," testified Texas Securities Commissioner Denise Voigt Crawford, adding that she is investigating other banks.
But OCC Chief Counsel Julie L. Williams defended the agency's handling of the NationsSecurities case by noting that it successfully pressured the banking company to change its "deplorable" practices in 1995 and worked with securities regulators to achieve a $7 million settlement from NationsBank last year. (NationsBank merged with BankAmerica Corp. and took the Bank of America name in April).
She also denied criticism by Ms. Crawford that the OCC does not cooperate with state regulators.
The House Rules Committee is expected to approve the bill Wednesday and send it to the full House Thursday.
"It is a well-crafted, balanced bill that will modernize America's financial system and help us keep our preeminent position in the global marketplace," Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier, R-Calif., said in a statement.
The committee's toughest call will be to decide whether Rep. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., may introduce an amendment to toughen the bill's privacy limits; the financial services industry has said it would oppose the bill if the amendment is included.
House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., said Friday that he and other Republican leaders had not decided which amendments to allow.
But Rep. Markey fears his amendment, which would let customers block information sharing among affiliates, will be barred from consideration.
Ally John D. Dingell of Michigan, the ranking Democrat on House Commerce, said Friday that he had not been consulted on the privacy negotiations and added, "I don't receive this kind of behavior kindly."
Reps. Martin Frost, D-Tex., and Deborah Pryce, R-Ohio, are expected to unveil a deal early this week that would require financial companies to create and disclose their privacy policies and let customers block the sharing of confidential information with third parties for marketing purposes. Account numbers could not be shared with telemarketers, but data transfers among affiliates would be unfettered.