noncontroversial provisions Wednesday in an effort to infuse their negotiations with signs of life, but they remain deadlocked on community reinvestment requirements and other major issues.
The 66-member House-Senate conference committee adopted a package that, among other things, would:
Make it easier for bank holding companies to engage in new financial activities by requiring they give the Federal Reserve only 30 days' notice.
Let national banks directly underwrite municipal revenue bonds.
Eliminate the special reserve on the Savings Association Insurance Fund and the authority of regulators to issue "know-your-customer" rules.
The Fed dodged a bullet when lawmakers watered down a controversial measure that would have changed the way the agency charges banks for check processing and other services.
The resolution of the 15 items represents progress, but members of the House-Senate conference committee still must tackle powers for bank subsidiaries, community reinvestment requirements, limits on unitary thrifts, and other major disputes. Debate began on some of these issues Wednesday and is scheduled to continue today at 3 p.m.
Even the effort to show consensus on lesser issues was marred by partisan bickering. Both bills would require automated teller machine operators to disclose their fees, but Senate Banking Committee Chairman Phil Gramm, R-Tex., objected to including that provision until it is clear how many other regulatory burdens are imposed on financial services companies.
That angered Democrats, who retaliated by objecting to other items that had been slated for a vote, including one of the legislation's cornerstones: repealing provisions of the Glass-Steagall Act that bar banks and securities firms from owning each other.
Sen. Gramm indirectly suggested he would accept the ATM provision if lawmakers adopted a requirement for disclosure of bank payments to consumer advocates as part of Community Reinvestment Act commitments. But House Democrats rejected the offer, with Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts arguing the trade was unfair because the ATM provision was passed by the House and Senate but the disclosure requirement is not in the House bill.
The bitter controversy over CRA reemerged during debate on other matters, such as whether to preserve the House bill's establishment of uninsured, wholesale financial institutions, or "woofies."
Sen. Gramm and Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., said they opposed woofies because they would have to comply with the CRA. "It would be a bad precedent," Sen. Shelby said, because it would extend the CRA for the first time beyond federally insured banks.
But House Banking Committee Chairman Jim Leach, R-Iowa, and allies from both parties said the extension was logical because woofies would perform banking functions. If CRA did not apply to woofies, they said, banks could buy them and shift their assets there away from the reach of the law.
Expressing frustration, Sen. Charles E. Schumer recommended that small issues such as woofies should be put aside so lawmakers could tackle major disputes.
"Let's focus on the dog and not the tail," the New York Democrat said. "CRA is going to be the seminal issue in determining whether we get a bill."
Sen. Gramm told Rep. Leach, the conference committee's chairman, that he ought to gather a few key lawmakers in a room and hammer out a compromise package that could then be presented to the full conference for a vote.
But Rep. Leach insisted on keeping to his two-week plan, which envisions a series of votes on individual issues, and a final vote during the week of Oct. 11.