WASHINGTON - Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin met with six big-bank executives last week, hoping to win their support for the Clinton administration's plan to rebuild the thrift insurance fund.
It was a tough sell.
The bankers told Mr. Rubin that they want a comprehensive solution for the Savings Association Insurance Fund, not the narrow financial fix he is backing.
On Aug. 9, Mr. Rubin hosted a lunch for Citicorp chairman John S. Reed; Charles E. Rice, chief executive of Barnett Banks Inc.; Fleet Financial Group's chairman and CEO, J. Terrence Murray; John B. McCoy, CEO of Banc One Corp.; Richard Thomas, chairman of First Chicago Corp.; and Lawrence K. Fish, chairman, president, and CEO of Citizen's Financial Group, Providence, R.I.
Comptroller of the Currency Eugene A. Ludwig, Treasury Under Secretary John D. Hawke, and Assistant Treasury Secretary Richard S. Carnell also attended the lunch.
A lobbyist at one of the banks represented at the meeting said that though the executives "made a very strong case" for a comprehensive thrift fund rescue, the administration's representatives did not budge.
The rescue plan that the Treasury Department unveiled last month focuses on rebuilding the thrift fund's reserves and securing funding for the Financing Corp. bonds. The plan also would merge the bank and thrift insurance funds.
Bankers are willing to swallow the fund merger as long as the bank and thrift charters are combined. While the administration supports such a move, it does not want to cloud the rescue with secondary issues. Mr. Hawke has promised to deliver a second piece of legislation by October that addresses melding the charters, as well as a number of other issues.
Currently, the Senate is supporting the Treasury Department plan while lawmakers in the House are leaning toward a broader bill.
Mr. Rubin and the bankers also discussed legislation to repeal the Glass-Steagall Act and reduce banks' regulatory burden.
Over the industry's strong objection, lawmakers have threatened to freeze the Comptroller of the Currency's power to authorize new products and services for banks, such as insurance sales.
Mr. Rubin assured the bankers that he would recommend that President Clinton veto any bill that handcuffs the Comptroller, according to a number of industry sources. However, Mr. Rubin later backed off that pledge, the same sources said.
Regardless, it is clear that the bankers and the administration officials are united behind the Comptroller and will fight hard in Congress to preserve the agency's discretion.
A Treasury Department spokesman declined to discuss the meeting or the possibility of a veto, but said the administration would "take an unfavorable view on legislation discriminating against the national banking system or against the OCC."
In addition to the Comptroller's ban, Mr. Rubin is already on record as saying he would recommend a veto of the regulatory relief bill if it waters down the Community Reinvestment Act too much.
In response, Senate Banking Committee Chairman Alfonse M. D'Amato is considering scaling back the exemptions included in the legislation reforming the law.