WASHINGTON - With little else to focus on after the glitch-free rollover to the new year, policy wonks are struggling to find a catchy name for the new financial reform law.
A trivial matter, you say? Consider it a marketing proposition. Interpreting a complex bill and predicting its ramifications are big business for the Washington idea factory. The January calendar, like December's before it, is crowded with symposiums on the subject as legal experts crawl out of the woodwork to fill panels and regulators prepare reusable speeches. Analyses of the law that eliminated the remaining barriers among the banking, insurance, and securities industries rolled off the presses quickly - some nearly as long as the 400-plus-page law itself.
But the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999 is hardly a sexy marquee for a conference agenda.
"Gramm-Leach-Bliley is always going to stick in people's throats," says Peter J. Wallison, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. "It's too complicated."
As "Y2K" became popular shorthand for the cumbersome "year-2000 computer problem," the much-discussed financial reform law needs a more convenient moniker, says Bert Ely, an industry consultant based in Alexandria, Va.
"We have to have creative names so everybody talks the same language," says Mr. Ely, who is so obsessed with the matter that he recently circulated an informal ballot of six names that included the abbreviations "GLB" or "Glubba" (rhymes with "Bubba"), "FinMod" (short for financial modernization), and the strange concoction "Greachley."
While acknowledging the humor of it all, Mr. Ely adds, "Actually it is important in terms of communications efficiency to settle on things like that."
Banking law has many precedents for such names. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Improvement Act of 1991 is commonly referred to as "fi-dee-sha" and the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act of 1989 goes by "fire-rea."
The political landscape is littered with failed names, however.
The Gramm-Rudman-Hollings budget balancing law of the mid-1980s eventually became known simply as Gramm-Rudman. "The third guy always falls off," says Ellen C. Lamb, a former vice president at the Conference of State Bank Supervisors.
Sifting through the periodic renamings of the long-sought law as it advanced through Congress is a political history lesson itself. Many still call it "HR 10," the number for House Banking Committee Chairman Jim Leach's legislation since 1997. Senate Banking Committee Chairman Phil Gramm reportedly pressured lobbyists to use instead the bill number for his version, S 900 - which won out as the official name when the bill went to a House-Senate conference committee.
In the early-morning hours of Oct. 22, as the conference committee put the final touches to the bill, an amendment was adopted to name it the Gramm-Leach Act. Some House Commerce Committee members strenuously objected, but Rep. Leach, who was also conference committee chairman, quickly slammed his gavel to close the conference. Later that day, Rep. Leach agreed to add House Commerce Chairman Thomas J. Bliley Jr. to the title. Rep. Leach later described the Bliley omission as a late-night oversight. (The skirmish, and the resulting cumbersome name, symbolize the turf war between the House Banking and Commerce committees, which stalled the bill for years.)
For now, no consensus has emerged on a slicker name.
David J. Pratt, a senior vice president for the Columbus Group consulting firm in Arlington, Va., and others are using the initials "GLB" to refer to the law. It rolls off the tongue like FDR or LBJ, he says, adding, "If we can go to the trouble of saying FDICIA, we can certainly say GLB."
Mr. Wallison, a tough critic of the new law, prefers "Glubba."
"It gives you the sense of sinking, of going underwater, which is how I think most people will feel about it," he says.
Mr. Ely is a fierce advocate of "FinMod," which he argues is apt and easy to say. In fact, Treasury Department officials frequently use the same term, and financial services industry lobbyists have distributed more than 900 blue hats emblazoned in red with "Fin Mod Squad" to people who worked on the legislation.
American Bankers Association lead lobbyist Edward L. Yingling claims to have no trouble with Gramm-Leach-Bliley and even predicts that one day the law will be as commonly known as the Glass-Steagall Act it repealed.
Until then, insiders will debate with tongue in cheek. "For those of us thinking about this, it clearly means we need to get a life," Mr. Ely says.