WASHINGTON - Rep. Marge Roukema, R-N.J., declared victory Friday in her campaign to get banking regulators to delay final community reinvestment rules until Congress can weigh their impact.
"The nation's four top banking regulatory agencies have agreed to delay implementation of new regulations for the Community Reinvestment Act," the House Banking's financial institutions subcommittee chairman said in a news release.
Rep. Roukema based this claim on a Jan. 19 letter from Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Chairman Ricki Tigert Helfer. But other regulators quickly distanced themselves from the letter.
"None of us were aware of the letter," Office of Thrift Supervision acting director Jonathan Fiechter said Friday.
Ms. Helfer's letter said the agencies "agreed to continue their working group discussions while giving Congress the opportunity to review the issues."
Other regulators said they agreed with that - but only to a point.
While Congress ought to have a chance to gauge the impact of new CRA rules, they cannot be held hostage to Congress's uncertain calendar, Konrad Alt, chief of staff at the Comptroller of the Currency's Office, said Friday.
Federal Reserve Board Governor Lawrence B. Lindsey said he does not object to a short-term delay.
"I think that we always care what Congress thinks, and if they want to hold hearings they should," Mr. Lindsey said. "(But) I don't think we should delay indefinitely."
Ms. Helfer did ask Rep. Roukema to move quickly.
"Given the level of uncertainty that exists in the banking industry over how CRA will be implemented, I recommend that Congress take up the issue at the earliest possible time," Ms. Helfer said in her letter.
Rep. Roukema requested the delay Jan. 18 in a letter to the four banking and thrift agencies. In an interview Friday, Rep. Roukema said her chief concern is whether the new rules go beyond the law.
"On the face, it seems so," she said. "I think they have a burden of proof here."
Regulators will get the chance to produce that proof at a hearing Rep. Roukema plans to hold. No date has been set, but Rep. Roukema said she plans to invite as witnesses "all those that have a direct interest in the issue."
Rep. Roukema said the banking industry supports her efforts to slow down the CRA rulemaking process.
"I think there were a lot of cheers when this letter (Ms. Helfer's) came back today," Rep. Roukema said.
A delay is a mixed blessing for bankers who are anxious to get permanent rules in place but are dreading the prospect of additional record-keeping requirements.
The CRA rules have been in the works for 2#1/2 years. The agencies had been aiming to finish the regulations by the end of February, but that deadline will not be met.
Mr. Fiecther noted that the regulators are not finished writing the rules and won't be for some time.
"Nothing Chairman Roukema has suggested today is slowing us down," he said. "At some point in time, when we have a final rule, this will become an issue. But we're not there yet."
- Olaf de Senerpont Domis and Jaret Seiberg contributed to this article.