a big setback to financial reform legislation, lobbyists and others said Monday. Rep. Robert L. Livingston, who is almost certain to succeed Rep. Newt Gingrich as House speaker, is a virtual unknown on financial issues. Observers said he faces a steep learning curve in the delicate task of satisfying the banking, securities, and insurance lobbies on reform. Mr. Livingston also could be hobbled by the loss of Rep. John A. Boehner, a key supporter of financial reform who could be stripped of the House Republican Conference chairmanship in the leadership shake-up. The tumult in the House-along with last week's defeat of Sen. Alfonse D'Amato, chairman of the Senate Banking Committee-could slow down consideration of reform next year and possibly bump it from the agenda. "Now we are in double jeopardy," said Annie Hall, director of public policy for Bank One Corp. "Without someone in the leadership picking up the torch, it will put us five years back." "There's a good chance you might not see financial modernization legislation this Congress," a Republican banking aide said. Reform legislation, which would make it easier for banks, insurers, and securities firms to own one another, narrowly passed in the House this year but stalled in the Senate. Until last week's elections, the legislation was widely expected to be revived in 1999. Among the new uncertainties, the sudden rise of Rep. Livingston is perhaps the largest. Rep. Gingrich, by contrast, was a clear supporter of reform this year, helping push it through the House. Despite the questions about Rep. Livingston, some say he could become an important ally for the banking industry. He has close ties to House Banking Committee Chairman Jim Leach and enjoys significant support from bankers in his home state. "Banks will be in a better position with Livingston than we have been with the current speaker," maintain Russell S. Hoadley, an executive vice president of Hibernia National Bank, New Orleans. That institution contributed $7,000 to the Louisiana Republican in the past two years. Rep. Gingrich, who said late last week that he would step down as speaker and resign his House seat, angered bankers this year when he spearheaded a bill easing credit union membership limits. He also advocated a version of financial reform that they considered anti-bank. "I never felt in the last four years that Gingrich truly understood banking's position or cared about it," said Mr. Hoadley, who echoed complaints that Rep. Gingrich favored the interests of insurance agents. Rep. Livingston, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, became the heir apparent this weekend after Rep. Bill Archer of Texas and several other candidates withdrew from the race. Rank-and-file Republicans are incensed by Democratic gains in the midterm elections and could oust most of the House hierarchy when they pick leaders Nov. 18. Rep. Boehner, meanwhile, chaired the task force that kept the bill on Rep. Gingrich's agenda. He faces at least two challengers for his leadership position, No. 4 in the House, including one by former House Banking Committee member J.C. Watts Jr., R-Okla. Some observers said Republican House members will ignore financial reform in favor of bills more appealing to voters, such as tax cuts and health care. An expected restoration of power to committee chairmen could exacerbate turf battles between House Banking and Commerce. A 21-year House veteran, Rep. Livingston voted for the credit union and financial reform bills this spring. But his home-state bankers said the Louisiana Republican also supports consumer bankruptcy reform, and they praised him as an intelligent and fair-minded legislator. "Bob Livingston is an individual who is a consensus-builder," said C.R. "Rusty" Cloutier, president and chief executive of MidSouth National Bank in Lafayette, La. "He's always listening to us."

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.