Senate Banking Committee Chairman Phil Gramm, always comfortable before a crowd, was as down-home and entertaining as ever during a news conference last week to announce his 2000 agenda.
The Texas Republican artfully portrayed this year's expected congressional gridlock on issues such as cutting taxes and spending the surplus as pure democracy. Instead of playing political games with the White House, he said, Congress should wait until the public provides direction at the ballot box this fall. "In election years, politicians ought to speak less and listen more."
He also had this theory on why fellow Texan George W. Bush lost the Republican primary in New Hampshire: "The problem is people in New Hampshire talk funny," he drawled. "When he was saying Texas, they thought he was saying taxes. He was at a disadvantage. We are getting ready to go into parts of the country where people don't talk funny, and I think that is going to make a difference."
John E. Silvia better be on his toes in his new job as the Senate Banking Committee's chief economist. After all, his boss used to teach economics at Texas A&M University. Mr. Silvia fills a post that has been vacant since Sen. Gramm took over the committee last year."I am always excited to meet another economist to swap theories with," Sen. Gramm said in a statement. Mr. Silvia's expertise "will be a tremendous help as the committee fulfills its responsibility on the forefront of assessing and setting economic policy for the Senate."
Mr. Silvia, 51, was most recently managing director and chief economist at Scudder Kemper Investments Inc. in Chicago. He previously worked for Harris Bank in Chicago as an economic researcher and was also an Indiana University professor.
Cynics have claimed that one of the main reasons financial reform was finally enacted last year was the Republican leadership's need to counter the impression of a "do-nothing" Congress.During a U.S. Chamber of Commerce speech last week, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott confirmed that notion. Brandishing a lecturer's pointer, he presented a list of 22 achievements on a large red, white, and blue poster. The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act ranked No. 4, right after the National Missile Defense Act, education reform, and military pay raises.
"For 20 years we talked about it. Last year we got it done," the Mississippi Republican said proudly. "History will look back and say, `Maybe that was the single most important change in the law we did last year.' "
The demand by consumer groups for an ethics investigation of former Treasury Secretary Robert E. Rubin continues to inch along.Jeffrey Rush Jr., the Treasury Department's inspector general, told Ralph Nader and other activists in a late January letter that he was referring their request to the Justice Department.
Mr. Nader's organization and four other groups, including the Greenlining Institute and New York Public Interest Research Group, want a federal probe of Mr. Rubin's role in compromise talks on the financial reform bill after he left his Cabinet post but before he became co-chairman of Citigroup Inc.
Opponents of the law because of its changes to the Community Reinvestment Act, these groups question whether Mr. Rubin helped shape a deal because he knew Citigroup - a strong proponent of the legislation - was planning to hire him. Mr. Rubin has denied the allegations.
These groups were turned down in December by the Office of Government Ethics, but Mr. Rush wrote that "if [Justice officials] determine the allegations, if proven true, constitute a violation of law, I will conduct an investigation."
Separately, Mr. Rubin has hired Michael B.G. Froman as chief of staff for Citi's office of the chairman, which also includes Sandy Weill and John Reed. Mr. Froman was Mr. Rubin's Treasury chief of staff.
With a little help from her friends, Karen Shaw Petrou has published a comprehensive guide to the new financial reform law."The CEO's Guide to Financial Reform: The Business Impact of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act," is introduced with words of wisdom from House Banking Committee Chairman Jim Leach and Wells Fargo chairman and CEO Richard M. Kovacevich, among six others. The forward consumes 38 of the guide's 185 pages.
Industry folks or fellow lawmakers planning to resurrect the idea of mixing banking with commerce this year should be warned that Rep. Leach uses his space, in part, to continue his attack on the concept. "[I]f the proposal ever became a known possibility, public angst would be grave and the political consequences unforgiving," according to the Iowa Republican.
The guide, from Ms. Shaw's consulting firm, ISD/Shaw Inc., poses pages of questions to get CEOs thinking about the strategic questions raised by the new law and focuses on the costs and benefits - including the capital consequences - of entering a new line of business. Major provisions of the law are covered in depth and a handy chronology at the back shows what is supposed to happen when.
Copies cost $175 and can be ordered on-line from www.isdshaw.com.