WASHINGTON -- The Senate's Democratic leadership was prepared to act Tuesday to expedite consideration of interstate branching legislation.

Majority Leader George J. Mitchell planned to file a cloture petition that would, if adopted, limit debate to one hour per senator.

However, as the Senate began debate Tuesday, Sen. Mitchell expressed hoped that the bill could pass that evening without the need for a petition limiting debate.

If the Senate approves it, the measure goes to the White House for President Clinton's signature.

The cloture petition was aimed at two senators who have strong objections to provisions in the bill - especially at Howard Metzenbaum. The Ohio Democrat believes the bill did not go far enough to extend state statute of limitations for bringing suits against the officers and directors of failed financial institutions.

Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Tex., opposes a provision that would have the effect of reinstating a ban on home equity loans in his home state. That measure was championed by Rep. Henry B. Gonzalez, D-Tex., chairman of the House Banking Committee.

Industry sources said the majority leader shouldn't have a problem gamering the 60 votes necessary to approve the cloture.

Although it is not absolutely certain that either Sen. Metzenbaum or Sen. Gramm would try to hold up the legislation, sources say that Sen. Mitchell decided to go ahead with the cloture petition just in case.

"It's very good news that Mitchell is willing to use this procedure," said John Rippey, legislative director for the Bankers Roundtable. "It eliminates some potential problems."

On Monday evening, Sen. Mitchell moved that the Senate proceed with a vote on the interstate bill, but Kentucky Republican Mitch McConnell requested a recorded vote on the majority leader's motion, in effect dehying the Senate from taking up the issue until Tuesday afternoon, when more senators were expected to be back from the August break.

"It steamed Mitchell because he felt he was sandbagged;' Mr. Rippey said. "But all that really happened is Sen. Gramm won 24 more hours on the debate. All systems are still go - they'll just vote on the bill next week."

With so little time left in the session, individual Senators have considerable power to delay or block legislation. Congress is likely to adjourn for the year in early October.

However, interstate advocates said they still expect the bill to pass the Senate this year.

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