House Republicans are taking a fresh look at almost everything about the way Congress operates, from the committee structure right down to the little buckets of ice that are delivered to offices each day.

Nobody except a few thirsty congressional aides is likely to lose any sleep over the ice buckets. But bankers and thrift executives have a good deal at stake in the discussion of committee reorganization.

One plan under consideration could affect the way financial services industry legislation is treated for years to come. And -- miracle of miracles -- the Republican plan would likely help banks and thrifts, while reducing the influence of the securities and insurance industries.

One proposal discussed during a daylong, closed-door meeting of Republican leaders, would move responsibility for the securities industry to the House Banking Committee from Energy and Commerce. Insurance industry oversight could also be transferred.

Consideration is also being given to moving jurisdiction over housing programs from banking to a new panel that may be called the "empowerment committee". At the same time, the House Small Business Committee could be returned to banking, from which it originally sprang years ago.

While money-center bankers may be salivating over the possibility that control over securities legislation could be delivered from the inhospitable hands of Energy and Commerce, the fate of the housing subcommittee is far more important to the industry over the long run.

It is sometimes forgotten that the committee's full tide is the Committee on Banking, Finance, and Urban Affairs. In the eyes of banks and thrifts, it is simply the House Banking Committee.

But to many of the lawmakers who serve on it, the panel might better be known as the Committee on Housing and Urban Affairs.

It is the housing charier that draws liberal Democrats to the committee. Lawmakers like Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy 2d, D-Mass., or Maxine Waters, D-Calif., didn't go to the banking committee to help rationalize the Glass-Steagall Act.

Instead, they were attracted to the panel to help their urban constituencies with housing and other basic financial needs. Rep. Kennedy, for example, is best known for an amendment that requires disclosure of data gathered under the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act.

If housing is taken from the panel, a whole generation of legislators could leave with it, including, perhaps, its current chairman, Rep. Henry B. Gonzalez. The Texas Democrat also chairs the housing subcommittee.

And in the future it is likely that freshman lawmakers who seek out the banking committee will be guided by one of two motives. The more principled will go because they have an interest in financial issues -- or in financial industry constituents.

Others, though, will see the panel as a golden opportunity to raise campaign funds. Nothing brings out the contributions like a good banking bill, and a young legislator with an insecure grip on his district could do worse than sit on a committee that oversees the nation's financial institutions.

If the securities and insurance industries were brought under the banking committee's charter, the effect would be magnified several-fold, as commercial banks slugged it out with Wall Street firms.

Following Wednesday's meeting, Republican leaders ruled out a transfer of the Small Business Committee to banking. However, that was largely an effort to protect a seat for Rep. Jan Meyers of Kansas, who would be the only Republican woman to chair a committee.

Right now, the odds may be shifting against those who want to move housing to a new committee on" empowerment." One alternative under discussion would move subsidized housing programs. to a new panel, while leaving jurisdiction for other matters, including the secondary market agencies, with banking.

More likely to pass muster is the effort to transfer securities oversight to banking. Energy and Commerce's presumptive chairman, Rep. Thomas Bliley, R-Va., is protesting vigorously, but Rep. Jim Leach of Iowa, who is expected to chair the banking committee, can argue in turn that the move merely aligns the House panel's jurisdiction with its Senate counterpart.

For bankers, though, it almost doesn't matter which of the plans they adopt. They're likely to win either way, and the only question is, how big?

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.