A tense showdown on the thrift charter is expected in the House Banking Committee this week. Lawmakers are caught between the banking industry's demands for stiff limits on unitary thrift holding companies and the thrift industry's insistence that any restrictions would be anti-competitive.

"One helluva fight is under way" behind the scenes, said Kenneth A. Guenther, executive vice president of the Independent Bankers Association of America. "It is emerging as the major issue before the committee."

House Banking convenes today for its second-and possibly last-day of voting on legislation that would bar commercial companies from chartering thrifts and buying existing ones. Nonfinancial firms that already own or had applied for a charter by March 4 would be grandfathered.

The American Bankers Association flew in about 70 bankers and state trade association officials last week to lobby House Banking members to stick with this version. The ABA and IBAA urged bankers to keep the heat on this week.

The thrift industry, which had 230 executives here last week, and the National Association of Home Builders are lobbying instead for a bipartisan amendment-which Reps. John J. LaFalce, Bill McCollum, Edward R. Royce are expected to introduce-that would remove the bill's limits on unitary thrift holding companies.

Sources on each side claimed the votes were leaning their way, but the outcome is too close to call.

Thrifts also are fighting to prevent House Banking from mimicking a provision in the Senate legislation extending for three years their requirement to pay a larger share of the interest on Financing Corp. bonds than banks.

"This was injected into the process primarily by the ABA to be a distraction," said Paul A. Schosberg, president of America's Community Bankers. Banks are trying to use the threat of increased payments to bully the thrift industry into accepting limitations on their charters, he said.

ABA chief lobbyist Edward L. Yingling, denied the accusation. "We are not the ones who teed it up," he said.

Sen. Connie Mack, R-Fla., is expected to announce Saturday that he will not run for a third term in 2000. ... Robert A. Rusbuldt, executive vice president of the Independent Insurance Agents of America, may disagree with Senate Banking Committee Chairman Phil Gramm over financial reform, but he praised the Texas Republican for spending long hours on the issue. "I've spent more time with Sen. Gramm this week than I've spent with my wife and kids."

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