Fed up with trade group disputes that have blocked financial services reform, House Speaker Newt Gingrich wants to form a task force to iron out legislation in the next Congress.
The panel would comprise members from the banking and commerce committees as well as other interested lawmakers, according to sources.
Rep. John Boehner, the Republican Conference chairman, is angling to head the panel, sources said, but Majority Whip Tom DeLay could get the nod.
Support for such a panel is building because lawmakers are reluctant to choose sides in the fights between the bank, securities, and insurance industries. A veteran of these battles, Rep. Richard Baker, R-La., said some members want House leaders to provide "political cover" on such difficult issues. The thorny problems include whether commercial firms will be allowed to own banks and the extent to which state regulators will supervise national banks' insurance sales.
Rep. Toby Roth, R-Wis., who is retiring from the House, floated a similar idea in June when he introduced legislation to create a "blue- ribbon" commission that would write a plan for merging the bank and thrift charters.
No decisions are likely until at least December, however, as Rep. Gingrich must first retain his House seat and the Republican majority - as well as preserve his own reign as speaker.
On the Senate side, Sen. Rod Grams' effort to launch a financial- modernization working group has been "postponed," according to a spokesman.
In August, the Minnesota Republican announced he would form a group of lawmakers to discuss expanding bank securities and insurance powers and allowing greater industry affiliation.
But, according to sources, Senate Banking Committee Chairman Alfonse M. D'Amato squelched the idea because he wants to lead the financial modernization debate himself.
Fall seems to be the season for speculating about Capitol Hill staffers and their career plans. Last year, lobbyists were circulating rumors that Joseph L. Seidel, the House Banking Committee's chief counsel, was hunting for a private-sector job.
This time, Robert J. Giuffra Jr., Mr. Seidel's counterpart at the Senate Banking Committee, is the topic of speculation. Several lobbyists say they expect him to return to New York law firm Sullivan & Cromwell, where he was a senior associate until 1995.
Two years ago, Mr. Giuffra came to Washington as Sen. D'Amato's top staffer on financial modernization legislation. The Whitewater investigation changed those plans and he landed in front of the television cameras as part of the Republican legal team.
Sources said Mr. Giuffra, 36, planned to limit his tenure on the committee to two years and will be able to parlay his Whitewater exposure into a lucrative partnership at Sullivan & Cromwell. Mr. Giuffra did not return telephone calls seeking comment. As for Mr. Seidel, he's still with the House panel.
With the elections only a week away, the most panicked requests for campaign contributions from the Independent Bankers Association of America are coming from challengers, according to Alexandra Maroulis-Cronmiller, who heads the group's political action committee.
"We're getting a lot more last-minute calls from challengers. Usually it's incumbents who are more freaked out at this time," she said.
During the 1996 election cycle, the IBAA has doled out $420,000 to candidates while the American Bankers Association has donated $1.4 million, according to the Federal Election Commission.
The ABA sees little difference in donation requests between challengers and incumbents, said Floyd Stoner, director of federal legislative operations. "Fund-raising is intensifying for everyone," he said.