With financial services reform and other major banking bills on their deathbed, lobbyists and lawmakers are making last-ditch efforts to get pet provisions attached to must-pass legislation.
Their prized target-the catchall spending bill that Congress will approve this week to keep the government from shutting down-is reserved for high priorities and noncontroversial items. Congress could vote on that bill and adjourn as early as today.
"It will be an extreme long shot" to include any banking-related riders, said Samuel J. Baptista, president of the Financial Services Council.
Still, thrift industry leaders and federal banking regulators are pushing hard for a repeal of the Savings Association Insurance Fund's special reserve, due to be created Jan. 1. Provisions striking it are included in the reform and regulatory relief bills, but both bills are all but dead.
Robert R. Davis, government relations director for America's Community Bankers, said the lobbying effort has a strong chance of success. "Of course, at the end, there isn't time for everything Congress should do," he acknowledged.
Rep. Richard H. Baker, R-La., tried over the weekend to find a way to move Federal Home Loan Bank System reform proposals included in the financial reform bill, sources said. Yet Congress is unlikely to approve such provisions separately because they serve as incentives for various industry groups to support larger bills.
"We all get something, we all suffer some pain," said David J. Pratt, senior vice president of federal affairs for the American Insurance Association.
Many observers suspected Citigroup-which was recently formed from the merger of Citicorp and Travelers Group Inc.-would try to sneak by a concise yet monumental legal fix that would let the company retain its insurance underwriting operations.
Under current law, Citigroup has to divest these operations in the next two to five years.
Despite the widespread speculation, Citigroup lobbyist Gregory J. Koczanski said the company will not seek any side deals to accommodate its merger, because that would anger lawmakers and abandon allies for sweeping financial restructuring, he said.
"We have taken the approach that we are part of a coalition and we are sticking to it."
Rumors circulated this week that Congress might slap a moratorium on regulatory approvals of national bank operating subsidiaries and unitary thrift holding companies to preserve the status quo until work on financial reform resumes next year. Some have also suggested a temporary ban on Federal Reserve Board approvals of securities underwriting units or deals akin to Citigroup's.
But industry lobbyists said no consensus exists among lawmakers for any such moves. "We are watchful but are very optimistic there won't be a moratorium included in the wrap-up (spending) bill," said Edward L. Yingling, chief lobbyist for the American Bankers Association.