Though close personally with House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Banking Committee Chairman Jim Leach is still a middle-of-the-road Republican who has a tough time fitting in with the House's conservative Republican leaders.

Reflecting last week on his party's conquest of Congress, Rep. Leach showed why.

"Where I differ a little bit with the speaker is a lot of the Republican leaders are saying this is a revolution. The fact is it's anything but a revolution. I once did a dissertation on the subject, and I can tell you there is nothing revolutionary about what's going on in Washington today.

"I would only stress how modest - not how radical - the Republican agenda is: to achieve a balanced budget in seven years with 3% spending increases per year."

Rep. Leach, first elected by Iowans in 1976, also refused to paint the two political parties as diametrically opposed.

"Our two parties are still very close to the center," he said. "The differences between Republicans and Democrats is not near as dramatic as the rhetoric and emotion of the moment."

***

During a debate Monday between Rep. Leach and Treasury Under Secretary John D. Hawke Jr., the question arose: who owns the $25 billion in the Bank Insurance Fund.

Rep. Leach insisted the money belongs to bankers while Mr. Hawke, just as fervently, asserted the money is the government's.

Who better to settle the dispute than Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Chairman Ricki Helfer?

But Ms. Helfer became Switzerland when asked her opinion at a press conference Tuesday.

Bankers wrote the premium checks and certainly have an ownership stake in the fund, she said. But the Treasury Department, which bailed out the savings and loan industry, also has a proprietary interest, she added.

"There are pretty legitimate reasons why people have different perspectives," she said. "My own view is that ownership is not a useful concept."

***

Ms. Helfer took a jab at the American Bankers Association during its annual convention.

Disagreements among the industry's associations, she said, didn't help her efforts to secure leftover Resolution Trust Corp. funds to contribute to the bailout of the thrift insurance fund.

"I will tell you quite frankly that had the industry been behind getting access to the RTC funds in unison early in the year that might have been possible," she said.

For months early this year the Independent Bankers Association of America tried to persuade anyone who would listen that RTC funds should be used to prop up the fund, while the ABA refused to discuss the issue.

***

The people who helped the government recover more than $1 billion through litigation against the failed Drexel Burnham Lambert and Michael Milken gathered Thursday night for a reunion dinner.

About 45 of the 100 lawyers and other professionals both in and out of the government gathered in the officers club at Fort McNair.

Robert Chaskes, senior counsel at the Resolution Trust Corp., organized the celebration. More than 50 thrifts lost money in dealings with Drexel or Mr. Milken, according to Mr. Chaskes.

The biggest chunk of the $1 billion booty, $470 million, came from the settlement Mr. Milken reached with the government in 1992. Another $440 million was recovered from the Drexel bankruptcy.

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