Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott delayed consideration of the financial services reform bill Friday, a move supporters said all but ensures it will not be enacted this year.
"Put a fork in it," said Robert A. Rusbuldt, executive vice president of the Independent Insurance Agents of America. "It's done."
Next year's new Congress will have to start from scratch to restructure the financial industry, lobbyists said.
Others were more cautious, noting that the bill is still technically alive and that Capitol Hill would see a flurry of unpredictable legislative activity over the final weekend of the session. (Check www.americanbanker.com on Monday for updates on this weekend's actions.)
Also, rumors circulated Friday afternoon that lawmakers may extend the session or return after the November elections.
"The odds are strongly against it at this point, although it is not dead," said Edward L. Yingling, chief lobbyist for the American Bankers Association.
Supporters said they would lobby to add the legislation to a catch-all spending bill that lawmakers had to pass over the weekend in order to prevent a government shutdown.
But the Clinton administration's threat to veto the reform bill gives that maneuver a "very slight" chance of success, said Kenneth A. Guenther, executive vice president of the Independent Bankers Association of America.
Sen. Lott used a parliamentary maneuver to put the bill on hold and attached two killer amendments to prevent it from being brought up for debate. Observers said Republican Sens. Phil Gramm and Richard C. Shelby, who argue the bill broadens the Community Reinvestment Act, were bogging down all action on the Senate floor, and Democrats threatened to turn the bill into a vehicle for health-care reform.
Separately, the fate of the bankruptcy reform bill remained bleak. Though the House approved a compromise bankruptcy bill by a 300-to-125 vote Friday morning, Sen. Richard J. Durbin and other Democrats were expected to block a vote in the Senate.
Senate Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle said Friday afternoon on the Senate floor that President Clinton would veto the bill.
Whether lawmakers would approve other legislation important to bankers also remained unclear.
In the pre-dawn hours Friday, the House approved a regulatory relief bill that would roll back dozens of minor, outdated rules on banks and thrifts and would permit payment of interest on reserves by the Federal Reserve Board. It also would let banks pay interest on business checking accounts starting Oct. 1, 2004, and would expand the use of sweep accounts in the interim. But it was uncertain whether the Senate could pass similar legislation in time.
Meanwhile, the President last week vetoed the agricultural appropriations bill, saying its $4.2 billion relief package for farmers hurt by the world financial crisis was insufficient. A deal is expected that would raise the farm aid closer to the $7 billion sought by President Clinton.