A Capital Break

Washington's key financial services policymakers are using the August congressional recess to take a vacation from the industry's concerns and the capital's hot air.

Senate Banking Committee Chairman Paul Sarbanes jetted off to Asia last week to meet with the leaders of Taiwan, China, and South Korea on such international issues as human rights, trade, and missile defense. He is part of a four-member, bipartisan delegation led by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph Biden of Delaware.

The eight-day trip does not mean the Maryland Democrat had to forgo a beach holiday. According to its official schedule, on Wednesday the delegation visited the beach resort of Beidaihe, where Beijing's leaders and yuppies alike go to escape that capital's stifling August heat. Who says Washington and Beijing don't have a lot in common?

No word if Sen. Sarbanes got a chance to take a dip in the Pacific or if he and Sen. Biden jawboned about the bill the financial services industry is salivating over: bankruptcy reform. Executives are counting on Sen. Biden, who will serve on a House-Senate conference committee meeting in early September, to iron out legislative differences in the measure and help tilt the conference in favor of the bill.

Meanwhile, Sen. Phil Gramm, the ranking Republican on Senate Banking, began his summer vacation in rural Georgia visiting his "mama," as he frequently refers to her. Then he began a series of events around his home state of Texas to talk about matters important to the Lone Star State - not to the banking industry. He has no plans to meet up with President Bush, who is spending his month-long holiday at his ranch in Crawford.

A spokeswoman for House Financial Services Committee Chairman Michael G. Oxley would not to reveal his summer schedule. But Rep. John LaFalce, the panel's ranking Democrat, is going down under with a delegation led by House International Relations Committee Chairman Henry Hyde to talk trade and other issues with the leaders of Australia and New Zealand.

The bank and thrift regulators are also beating the Washington heat. Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan and his wife, NBC newswoman Andrea Mitchell, "will be making their annual trip to a tennis camp," according to a spokeswoman who, citing security concerns, declined to say where or when. Comptroller of the Currency John D. Hawke is spending the second half of August at his summer home on Martha's Vineyard, while outgoing Office of Thrift Supervision Director Ellen Seidman will take her holiday in Maine.

Crunch Time Coming

What folks really want to know is what incoming Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Chairman Donald E. Powell is doing this summer. Confirmed by the Senate on July 12, he has yet to be sworn in.

Mr. Powell is expected to take office in the final week of August, perhaps the 27th, sources said last week. Apparently he is tying up loose ends in his hometown of Amarillo, Tex., including selling his shares in First National Bank of Amarillo, where he had been the president and chief executive officer. FDIC officials refuse to comment about what's taking their new boss so long, but one source suggested that Mr. Powell was advised to get everything in order before he was sworn in because he might not have much free time once in office.

Not bad advice. With an expensive bank failure attracting congressional attention and deposit insurance reform heating up in two Capitol Hill committees, Mr. Powell is sure to have a busy September.

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