With just three months left in this year's congressional session, Senate Banking Committee Chairman Donald W. Riegle Jr. this week unveiled one of the most ambitious legislative agendas in recent memory.

The Michigan Democrat said he plans to seek votes on many of the most controversial issues that linger among the unfinished business of the banking committee. They include interstate branching and regulatory relief

Still, many seasoned observers doubt that Sen. Riegle can move all of the bills this year, and some wonder if that's even his intention.

"It's one thing to announce an agenda. and another thing to get a consensus from the committee to go to mark-up," said one bank lobbyist. "And Sen. Riegle likes to work by consensus."

Instead, Sen. Riegle may be trying to protect legislation that is a priority for him and for President Clinton -- the community development bank bill.

Sen. Riegle and Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato, R-N.Y., have crafted a bill that addresses community development banks and some additional, issues related to credit availability.

Reasonable Chance of Passage That bill can probably pass in the Senate and has reasonable prospects in the House. But Sen. D'Amato has warned that the bill could still sink if it isn't kept clean of more controversial amendments.

By announcing votes on other bills this year, Sen. Riegle may have taken the pressure off the community development bank bill.

"If you tell people that's the only bill you're going to do, then everybody who wants something has to jump on that bill," said Stephen J. Verdier, lobbyist for the Independent Bankers Association of America.

A Different Tack

"This looks like an attempt to get away from the traditional omnibus, do-everything-on-one-bill approach that the banking committee has always taken in the past," Mr. Verdier added.

There are indications that lawmakers would try to load freight on the community bank bill before it sets sail. In hearings last week, Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, D-Conn., repeatedly' urged the administration to consider including interstate branching in the community development measure.

In the past, interstate has always been the vehicle for insurance issues as well. And Sen. Dodd and Sen. James Sasser, D-Tenn., have been asking Mr. Riegle to address them too.

Sen. Dodd warned last week that interstate is too controversial to move on its own and needs to be packaged with "must" legislation, like the President's community development bank bill, in order to have a chance of passage.

On Sept. 21, Sen. Riegle plans to seek a committee vote on his community development bank bill. That measure also includes provision aimed: at curbing abuses in the home equity lending business and a section aimed at creating a secondary market in small-business loans.

Section on Red Tape

A lengthy title attempts to ease what banks say are burdensome regulations. It would eliminate duplicative requests from regulatory agencies, mandate unified exams by a single agency, exempt more institutions from annual exams and create a procedure to appeal examiner decisions, among other provisions.

Later in the month, Sen. Riegle plans to bring up housing legislation, a flood insurance bill, and the Securities and Exchange Commission reauthorization bill.'

The panel will be asked to vote on the Fair Credit Reporting Act in October and on an interstate and insurance bill in November. Other issues likely to be brought before the panel by year's end include the Fair Trade in Financial Services Act and the Investment Advisors Oversight Act.

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