WASHINGTON — Two items vigorously opposed by the banking industry in President Bush’s $1.96 trillion budget released Monday are already close to being eliminated.

The President’s fiscal 2002 budget proposal would institute fees on state banks for federal supervisory exam costs and raise fees on loans funded by the Small Business Administration’s 7(a) program.

But the Senate, which on Friday passed a budget outline based on the preliminary budget the White House released in late February, adopted amendments last week that would get rid of the state exam fee proposal and raise the SBA’s budget by $264 million.

The House’s preliminary budget resolution, adopted last month, did not include either proposal, and lawmakers must reconcile the two versions before the full House and Senate may cast final votes.

Bankers said they saw very few surprises in the President’s plan, and that there are many distinctions — good and bad — between this proposal and the ones offered for the past eight years under former President Clinton.

In President Bush’s proposal, “there are efforts to reduce explicit and implicit subsidies in government programs,” such as with state fees and efforts regarding the 7(a) program, said Robert R. Davis, director of regulatory affairs for America’s Community Bankers.

And the new budget would eliminate programs created by Mr. Clinton, including the so-called “First Accounts” initiative, which sought to establish government-designed, affordable checking accounts for low-income people.

Joe Belew, president of the Consumer Bankers Association, said the Bush administration will probably revisit the issue of helping those who do not have bank accounts, but “it appears that a lot of the Clinton administration’s approaches to banking services, such as the First Accounts initiative, are going to be rethought,” he said. “I’m not sure that means that the Bush administration will forget about them, however.”

The budget plan also includes a new proposal that would allow the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s FHA program to insure hybrid adjustable-rate mortgages, a newer type of loan that typically carries an initial fixed interest rate for longer than one year.

The plan says that such hybrid loans would “substantially enhance the FHA’s product line, offering a sound mortgage product for borrowers who do not qualify for a fixed-rate mortgage or cannot afford the fixed-rate pricing, but who want to avoid the volatility associated with traditional ARMs.”

Mr. Davis, however, said bankers will probably oppose that measure, and argued that it is an area already well served by the private sector.

“This is just an additional increase in government intervention,” he said. “Most banks will find this an unnecessary additional FHA program.”

The budget also includes a proposal to raise the limits for FHA multifamily loans by 25%, which would be the first increase since 1992.

But it has other proposals that the industry is expected to support, including giving farmers and ranchers incentives to set up tax-exempt savings accounts similar to individual retirement accounts. The Farm, Fish, and Ranch Risk Management savings accounts would allow up to 20% of taxable income from these activities to be put aside, and would take effect at yearend.

Floyd Stoner, deputy executive director for government relations for the American Bankers Association, said the industry has been pushing this program for a long time, because it would help agricultural borrowers facing economic difficulty.

“It is too bad it couldn’t have been in place prior to the agriculture downturn we are in now,” Mr. Stoner said. “We have had some very good years. It would have been good to have the opportunity to utilize this program now.”

The proposed budget reflects the President’s campaign proposal to let Americans invest a portion of their Social Security taxes in the private sector. But it contains no details, such as whether banking companies could manage the accounts.

The budget would leave untouched two programs that provide direct and indirect student loans. President Clinton had dramatically expanded direct governmental assistance to students seeking financial aid.

“For 2002,” the plan says, “the President is committed to improving the efficiency of both programs and allowing individual institutions to choose which of these two programs best meet their needs and the needs of their students.”

Jennifer Gordon contributed to this article.


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