With major banking issues on the line, bank and thrift chiefs have set their fax machines on overdrive, lobbying lawmakers and fellow executives alike. But at least one has found time for a little levity.

Last week Charles E. Rice, chairman of Barnett Banks, said banks should be wary of House Banking Chairman Jim Leach's effort to get industry support before the Memorial Day break.

In a May 16 letter, Mr. Rice begged colleagues at the Bankers Roundtable to oppose the House Banking Committee chairman's Glass-Steagall reform bill.

The Iowa Republican had asked them to "trust the legislative process." But that's too dangerous, wrote Mr. Rice in his letter to Roundtable chairman Roger Fitzsimonds, who is also chairman of Milwaukee-based Firstar Corp.

The insurance industry did enough damage to the bill in the House last summer by pushing for restrictions on the Comptroller's Office. Things might get worse in the Senate, where banks' rivals are even stronger, Mr. Rice said. "Chairman Leach is not in a position to provide assurance," he said.

Even if the Bankers Roundtable does not come out against the bill, Mr. Rice predicted, many members will do so on their own. Despite weeks of intense negotiations, the trade group has not taken a stand on the bill.

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The on-again/off-again effort to capitalize the Savings Association Insurance Fund has a lot of thrift executives edgy.

But Stephen D. Haller, president of North Akron Savings Association in Ohio, tried easing his frustrations with a little light verse in a May 13 letter to Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole.

Mr. Haller complained that the "singing and dancing" accompanying attempts to pass the plan - often called BIF/SAIF because it would eventually merge the thrift fund with the Bank Insurance Fund - goes best with the tune of "The Hokey Pokey:"

SEE MATT ABOUT INDENTS

You put BIF/SAIF in,

You take BIF/SAIF out,

You put BIF/SAIF in,

And you shake it all about.

Despite the lighthearted message, Mr. Haller said in an interview that he's "angry and frustrated" that bank lobbying has prevented the plan from passing. By delaying efforts to shore up the savings association fund, banks are slowing efforts toward a merger of the two industries' charters that would help both compete with "nonregulated entities which are eating our lunch."

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Citicorp chairman John Reed finds little to laugh at in the thrift fund fix, calling the plan "bizarre" because it "taxes" banks to benefit competitors.

In an April 18 letter to House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Mr. Reed also derided the notion that the savings association fund is in danger. "There is no emergency: S&Ls had record profits in 1995. Their capital is up more than $1 billion over the last year. Few, if any, S&Ls are in danger of failing today."

Mr. Reed, like Mr. Haller, argued that the focus should be figuring out how to meld the bank and thrift charters. But he argued that Congress won't have incentive to tackle the charter merger if banks help shore up the savings association fund first. By paying up now, banks "will seriously undermine" the longer term goal, he said.

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