WASHINGTON - Bank regulators renewed their appeal for Congress to give the new Community Reinvestment Act regulations some breathing room, but ran into stern opposition from Republican lawmakers.

"You have zero, nada, zip credibility in that area to ask us to wait," said Rep. Doug Bereuter during a hearing Thursday before the House Banking subcommittee on financial institutions. The Nebraskan was alluding to the two years banking agencies spent hammering out changes to the reinvestment law.

"For you to sit there and say, 'Wait and see if this is going to work' - that's asking a lot of people who are supposed to be responsible for setting policy," Rep. Bereuter added.

Rep. Bereuter said CRA is "absolutely worthless in most communities." He has introduced legislation that would exempt small-town banks with less than $100 million of assets from the reinvestment law. His bill would also allow banks with less than $250 million in assets to "self-certify" that they are in compliance with CRA.

Subcommittee chairwoman Marge Roukema, R-N.J., concurred with Rep. Bereuter.

"You're asking us to take it on faith that two or five years down the line that these regulations will be effective," Rep. Roukema said. "I think that is asking a little much."

Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Chairman Ricki Helfer took issue with a provision that would preclude regulators from referring fair-lending violations to the Justice Department or the Department of Housing and Urban Development if the institution discovered the violation through self- testing.

"This provision would prohibit an agency from making a referral even if the institution had not taken or initiated corrective action to remedy the problems," Ms. Helfer said.

While there were some obvious disagreements between the bank regulators and lawmakers at Thursday's hearing, the agency heads generally supported the Bereuter bill, which aims to pare a variety of reporting requirements, including some contained in Truth-in-Savings and Truth-in-Lending.

Rep. Bereuter took interest in a suggestion made by Federal Reserve Board governor Susan M. Phillips to add a new CRA rating of "high satisfactory" to the current four-point rating system.

Ms. Phillips recommended that institutions with this new rating be eligible for certain branch application exemptions contained in the Bereuter bill.

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