Sure, Congress defeated a surprise attack on the Comptroller of the Currency by a 3-1 margin, but the attacker, Independent Insurance Agents of America, is undaunted.

Lawmakers are eager, insisted the group's spokesman, Jeff Myers, to clamp down on Comptroller Eugene Ludwig.

"If the bankers think there is true opposition to restricting the OCC, then tell them to try moving ahead with any legislation," Mr. Myers said.

The agents' group has vowed to block any banking legislation that does not bar Mr. Ludwig's agency from expanding national banks' insurance powers.

The group's prime targets: banking regulatory relief bills expected to come to the Senate and House floors in early September.

The insurance lobby offered a last-minute amendment to restrict the comptroller July 17 when the House considered an appropriations bill. The gambit was defeated 312-107.

The measure was introduced by House Rules Committee Chairman Gerald Solomon, a former insurance agent.

Mr. Myers said the July measure lost only because it was tacked onto an appropriations bill, which lawmakers had agreed to approve without controversial amendments.

But one Capitol Hill staff employee said the agents had had their shot and little sentiment remains in Congress to shackle the Comptroller's Office.

"You don't lose by 200 votes on procedural grounds," he said.


Call it beginner's luck.

J. Leon Peace Jr., who became senior tax counsel to the American Bankers Association on July 30, had put in only one day in his new office before Congress closed deals on five major tax provisions long sought by the industry.

By the end of last week, Congress had voted to allow tax-free rollover of common trust assets into mutual funds, to create a new type of financial instrument for securitizing nonmortgage debt, to let small banks organize as "Subchapter S" corporations in order to pass income tax-free to shareholders, and to increase the allowable individual retirement account contribution for nonworking spouses to $2,000.

Lawmakers also removed a major obstacle to merging the bank and thrift charters by forgiving $3 billion of taxes thrifts would otherwise have owed if they converted to commercial banks.

Mr. Peace, 43, said the flurry of activity gave him no time to unpack. "It caught me by surprise and kept me on the Hill for most of the week," he said.

He came to the ABA from the National Association of Home Builders, where he was director of tax and trade policy.


Most thrifts will be able to use the tax break passed last week that exempts most of the industry's bad-debt reserves from taxes. But the deal is a disappointment for Continental Savings in Seattle.

The legislation exempts only reserves taken before 1988. On reserves taken after Jan. 1, 1988, thrifts must begin paying taxes this year. Continental, founded in 1986, has few reserves that qualify for the exemption.

At Continental's urging, Sen. Slade Gorton, R-Wash., asked lawmakers in June to postpone passage of the bad-debt provision so he could work out a deal that would let Continental delay its tax payments.

But Senate leaders were unreceptive. One banking source said lawmakers were unwilling to reopen the provision, which was introduced last fall, at such a late hour.

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