WASHINGTON -- The Senate voted Wednesday to postpone thrifts' newly won authority to branch across state lines.
The 15-month moratorium, approved on a vote of 82-15, was one of a series of amendments tacked on to the legislation regulating government-sponsored enterprises.
The amendments turned the measure into a full-blown banking bill, covering such issues as money laundering, environmental lender liability, real estate appraisals, and thrift real estate subsidiaries.
However, the bill could face tough odds now.
The amendments are likely to alienate industry groups that would otherwise support the package. And the thrift moratorium, if adopted by the House, could prompt a presidential veto.
In a statement, President Bush said last year's bank bill included "antiquated and misguided regulations" that created "unacceptable obstacles for economic growth."
"The question is whether the bill is going anywhere now," said J. Dennis O'Toole, a lobbyist for the Savings and Community Bankers Association, a thrift trade group.
Gary Kohn, a lobbyist for the Independent Bankers Association of America, which played a major role in promoting the thrift moratorium, said the measure has a good chance of surviving House-Senate talks.
Backing from Gonzalez
"It depends on who they put on the conference committee," he said, noting that House Banking Committee Chairman Henry B. Gonzalez, D-Tex., supports the moratorium.
A number of the amendments would appeal to bankers, including the moratorium on interstate branching by thrifts.
"We think thrifts ought to be subject to the same restrictions as banks," said Edward L. Yingling, chief lobbyist for the American Bankers Association.
But other amendments scheduled for consideration this week could jeopardize this week could jeopardize bank industry support. Chief among them is a measure sponsored by Sen. Howard Metzenbaum, D-Ohio, that would require banks, thrifts, and credit unions to cash government checks written in amounts of $1,500 or less for payees who do not hold accounts.
That one-paragraph amendment would require regulators to issue rules within 90 days of the bill's enactment. All checks issued by state, federal, and local governments would be covered.
The amendments approved Wednesday include:
* A measure sponsored by Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah, to limit lender liability for environmental cleanup.
* Modifications of the Truth in Savings Act passed last year to give institutions more time to comply and eliminate detailed disclosure requirements for rates posted in lobbies.
* A bill that would authorize regulators to revoke the charters of institutions involved in money laundering.
* A provision modifying last year's law requiring regulators to issue guidelines on executive compensation. The measure would make clear that Congress intends only for regulators to address abusive practices.
* A four-month extension of the requirement that thrifts phase out their investments in real estate subsidiaries. Savings associations are scheduled to phase out an additional 20% of their investment in such units on July 1, following a 20% hit last year.
Regulatory Reform Measures
Meanwhile, Treasury Secretary Nicholas Brady unveiled the administration's regulatory reform legislation Wednesday and said the package would spur new lending.
The Credit Availability and Regulatory Relief Act of 1992 will address a number of provisions in last year's banking bill, which Mr. Brady said "will set new records for regulatory overkill if it isn't fixed promptly."
In particular, the bill would repeal provisions in last year's law that require regulators to establish specific operational standards on loan underwriting, executive compensation, and other activities.
Regulators, under this bill, could accept bank exams from state agencies regulators every year, rather than every other year as current law dictates.
The administration's bill also would allow regulators to skip a bank's annual exam if they have already examined 80% of its holding company's assets.
Compliance with the Community Reinvestment Act would also be simplified. Banks with less than $100 million in assets located in towns of less than 20,000 persons would not have to keep detailed documents proving where loans were made.
The bill also seeks to delay by up to one year the effective dates of some of the most onerous regulations coming down the pike, including restrictions on real estate loans; disclosures under Truth in Savings; curbs on loans to insiders; and limits on the use of brokered deposits.
Also set for a one-year postponement, to December 1993, are the Prompt Corrective Action rules proposed this week by federal regulators. These regulations are designed to get the government into sick banks before losses balloon.
Administration officials said the regulators are overwhelmed by the requirements of last year's banking bill and cannot devote the resources needed to write the new rules.
The banking agencies are moving so fast that "senior people only have a day or two" to read and react to new rules, one administration official said.
"This legislation will remove needless statutory burdens that require banks to spend more time filling out forms and filing reports than they do making loans," Mr. Brady said. "there is no reason to burden economic growth with such waste."