House Majority Leader Richard K. Armey put bankruptcy reform front and center last week when he released an agenda of the 25 issues on which Republicans plan to vote in the 30 working days scheduled between now and the end of April.
"Bankruptcy reform is clearly getting on a fast track on the House side," said Edward L. Yingling, chief lobbyist for the American Bankers Association. "It's got a lot of momentum."
With a vote planned for April, Republicans have their eye on the pro- creditor, needs-based bankruptcy plan introduced by Rep. George W. Gekas, R-Pa., that would prevent high-income borrowers from eliminating all their debts. That bill has been combined with a similar proposal by Rep. Bill McCollum, R-Fla., and Rep. Rick Boucher, D-Va.
That's an even faster timetable than the one set by Rep. Gekas, who has said he plans to hold five hearings on the legislation in March and wants the House to vote by the end of July.
House leaders are also planning to vote in March on a bill that would let federal employees establish tax-free accounts to pay for medical expenses such as those Congress created for the private sector.
Noticeably absent from the GOP's top-25 list was financial reform legislation. The House Banking and Commerce committees must compromise on their conflicting versions of a bill to merge the banking, securities, and insurance industries before the full House can vote on it.
The leadership's omission of financial reform has not deterred private sector groups from crafting their own compromises.
Richard M. Kovacevich, chairman of Norwest Corp., John G. Turner, chairman of ReliaStar Financial Corp., and Irving Weiser, chairman of Dain Rauscher Inc., a securities firm, have been crafting a proposal that they might unveil as early as this week. Washington insiders have few details but said the executives' efforts have focused on resolving roadblocks involving securities and insurance.
Each of the corporate executives is associated with a major trade group- Mr. Kovacevich is the incoming president of the Bankers Roundtable, Mr. Turner is past chairman of the American Council of Life Insurance, and Mr. Weiser is chairman of the Securities Industry Association-but sources familiar with the talks said the upcoming proposal represents only the executives' personal initiatives.
Other negotiations are transpiring simultaneously.
The SIA and the ABA Securities Association have held talks for more than two weeks on possible compromises, Mr. Yingling said.
"Both sides feel there has been some progress," he said, declining to offer details. "Tougher issues" remain such as the regulation of future products that have banking and securities traits, as well as the fate of bank operating subsidiaries, he said.
The Bankers Roundtable plans within two weeks to offer its financial reform plan, said Alfred M. Pollard,senior director for legislative affairs.
Lawmakers should be bracing for a lobbying tour de force when they return next week from their weeklong Presidents' Day recess.
As part of its annual government affairs conference, the Credit Union National Association plans to send more than 3,500 credit union executives and directors to lobby their congressmen in favor of legislation to ease restrictions on credit union membership expansion.
Most of the meetings are planned for Tuesday, which could be the same day the Supreme Court hands down a decision on the banking industry's lawsuit to bar employer-based credit unions from adding employer groups beyond their original sponsors.
Next Wednesday, 300 ABA members plan to visit Capitol Hill to talk about credit union membership, bankruptcy reform, and other issues.