After less than a year away from the Senate Banking Committee, New Mexico Republican Pete Domenici is rejoining the panel.

He takes a seat vacated by Sen. Bill Frist, the freshman from Tennessee who pushed through a key amendment on the thrift bailout bill making a merger of the deposit insurance funds contingent on the elimination of the thrift charter.

Sen. Frist is leaving the banking panel to fill the Commerce Committee opening left by Sen. Bob Packwood, who resigned last month.

Sen. Domenici spent four years on the Banking Committee before being named chairman of Senate Budget. During his tenure on the banking panel, Sen. Domenici was well regarded by the industry. Among his banking initiatives was the Unlimited Savings Allowance Tax Act, a proposal to exempt net increases in bank accounts from federal income tax.

"We're glad Domenici is coming on, but we're sorry to see Frist leave," said Edward L. Yingling, the American Bankers Association's executive director of government relations. "He served on a bank board; he was knowledgeable about the business."

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The Senate Banking Committee voted unanimously in favor of Joseph H. Neely's nomination to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. last week. He must now get approval from the Senate. There's no word yet on when a vote may be scheduled.

President Clinton nominated the Mississippi banking commissioner for one of the five FDIC board seats in July.

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When rumors of a potential merger between NationsBank and BankAmerica re-surfaced in the general financial press last week, J. Anthony Romero 3d lost no time.

Mr. Romero, the District of Columbia's new superintendent of banking and financial institutions, whipped off letters to leaders of both banks extending an invitation to locate the combined institution's headquarters in Washington.

"I am writing you to extend a warm and personal invitation," Mr. Romero told BankAmerica chairman and CEO Richard M. Rosenberg and NationsBank president Kenneth D. Lewis.

"When BankAmerica and NationsBank merge, the first true national bank will have been created. ... My staff and I are available to discuss the possibility of siting your national headquarters in the nation's capital."

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R. Scott Jones is the new chairman of ABA's government relations council, replacing William T. McConnell. Mr. Jones, chairman and chief executive Goodhue County National Bank, a $180 million-asset institution in Red Wing, Minn, also sits on the ABA's board of directors and has been a member of the group's community bank council.

G. Lee Griffin, chairman and CEO of Premier Bancorp in Baton Rouge, La., is the government relations council's new vice chairman.

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Comptroller of the Currency Eugene A. Ludwig may not see eye to eye with House Banking Committee Chairman Jim Leach, but at least he's willing to show a little respect.

The comptroller responded to a scathing six-page letter from the Iowa Republican by denying allegations that he had lobbied bank presidents to oppose a ban on new bank insurance powers.

"That is not acceptable conduct for any public official; it is certainly not my way, and I categorically deny that I have behaved in that manner," Mr. Ludwig wrote.

And though Rep. Leach had criticized the "ethical propriety" of Mr. Ludwig's alleged actions, the comptroller assured the chairman:

"For my part, I come to our disagreement with the greatest respect for your character, intentions, and accomplishments."

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