WASHINGTON For many bankers, President-elect George W. Bushs administration, as personified by their primary federal regulator, may look familiar well beyond the presidential inauguration.
Leaders of three of the four bank and thrift regulatory agencies could stay on for months in the Republican administration where banking-policy initiatives are unlikely early on.
The chief regulator on the shakiest ground is Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Chairman Donna Tanoue, whose first term expired in October.
Ms. Tanoue was reappointed by President Clinton, but her nomination was never acted on by the Senate. She is not expected to get another chance under a Bush administration, industry observers said. But a spokesman said Wednesday that Ms. Tanoue would serve until her successor is nominated and confirmed.
Comptroller of the Currency John D. Hawke Jr. had his staff say that he plans to finish out his term. The comptroller has a five-year term, of which he has served a year, a spokesman said. He has a lot of important initiatives under way and he is looking forward to working with the next president.
But Mr. Hawke is a lifelong Democrat who nearly retired from law practice before joining the Treasury Department in 1995. He could chafe at taking orders from Treasury officials appointed by President-elect Bush.
Like Mr. Hawke, Office of Thrift Supervision Director Ellen Seidman is appointed for a set term and would be difficult to fire. But as a former special economic adviser to President Clinton, she may be a less welcome figure in a Bush administration. Ms. Seidman said through a spokesman on Wednesday that she intends to serve out her term, which expires in October 2002.
Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan widely viewed as untouchable by either party was recently confirmed for a fourth four-year term as chairman, which would keep him in place through nearly all of a Bush presidency.
Eugene Ludwig, President Clintons first comptroller of the currency, said a change at the White House usually translates into a change at the agencies. But he said this transition could be different because the election was so close, and President-elect Bush has insisted he will reach across the political aisle.
Because of the consensus-building approach that has been discussed by the new administration, and because of the independent nature of regulatory agencies, it could well be that these regulators, who have done a fine job, stay, Mr. Ludwig said.
If changes do occur under the new president, they wont happen quickly. Banking regulation was a near-invisible issue during the election campaign and by some accounts is receiving a correspondingly low level of attention as Gov. Bushs advisers plan a transition to power.
The banking issues have not been high on everybodys list, said former Comptroller of the Currency Robert L. Clarke, now a senior partner at the Houston law firm Bracewell & Patterson. There arent any earth-shattering banking issues out there, so I dont think there has been a tremendous amount of focus yet on what the administrations banking policy will be, he said.
Though the industry as a whole was behind Mr. Bush, the Texas governor, when he emerged as the Republican Party favorite, bankers are already judging a Bush administrations approach to specific policy issues more by the powers behind the throne than by Gov. Bush himself.
You judge an incoming president by the people he surrounds himself with, said Joe Belew, president of the Consumer Bankers Association. Bush is very pro-business, but he doesnt have a particular track record on banking. I hold out a lot of promise for having Lawrence Lindsey in the administration. He has a proven track record and understands the more complicated issues facing us, especially issues like CRA and fair lending.
Mr. Lindsey, chief economic adviser to the Bush campaign, is a former Federal Reserve Board governor and adviser to the Reagan and Bush administrations. His name is high on the list of candidates said to be under consideration for Treasury secretary, director of the National Economic Council, or a specially created economic advisory and decision-making position within the White House.
Other banking industry insiders who have been reported as possible candidates for Treasury secretary or National Economic Council director include former Chase Manhattan chairman Walter V. Shipley; Donald B. Marron, PaineWebber chairman and CEO; and John M. Jack Hennessy, chairman of Credit Suisse First Bostons private equity division.
Others have suggested Sen. John Breaux, D-La., for Treasury secretary.
Mr. Bartlett said the moderate Louisiana Democrat would be a particularly attractive choice for a Republican administration that campaigned on a bipartisan governing style, and that now finds itself in need of a mandate.
Unlike his father, former President George Bush, who took office at the height of the savings and loan crisis, Gov. Bush does not enter the White House with must-do banking legislation on his agenda. Instead, many observers expect to see legislative initiatives on such issues as privacy, predatory lending, community investment arising in Congress and getting administration support if acceptable, rather than any major top-down legislative efforts.
The exception is bankruptcy reform, which will be perhaps the top industry priority for the next session of Congress if it is not enacted into law by yearend.
Gov. Bushs expected victory should give us an increased chance on bankruptcy reform, said Edward L. Yingling, the chief lobbyist for the American Bankers Association. While he has never taken a public position on it, one would think hed be favorably inclined to sign a bill and we would not have to worry about getting veto-proof majorities in the House and Senate.
Much of the industrys legislative priorities already have bipartisan congressional support, including overhauling bankruptcy laws, boosting retirement savings, and providing legal certainty to bank swaps agreements.
The legislative wildcard is privacy. The most active congressional privacy hawks span the political spectrum, from the conservative No. 2 Republican on the Senate Banking Committee, Sen. Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, to liberal Massachusetts Democrat Rep. Edward J. Markey.
In an interview with American Banker in September, Bush economic adviser Mr. Lindsey said a Bush administration would consider tougher opt-in rules requiring companies to get explicit customer permission before sharing certain information such as medical data. But not before it examined how well current rules protect private data, Mr. Lindsey stressed.
On predatory lending, Karen Petrou, president of the consulting firm of ISD/Shaw, said: I would strongly suspect that the regulatory pressure on predatory lending will not abate. Normally, you would expect Republican pressure to curtail regulatory initiatives, but the administration will not want to be seen as tolerating predatory lending.