When Senate Banking Committee Chairman Phil Gramm paid a visit to a Credit Union National Association conference here last week, he was treated more like a conquering hero than a lawmaker.

As if he were not popular enough with attendees after stopping legislation a few years ago that would have imposed community reinvestment requirements on credit unions, his remarks chiding privacy advocates and supporting bankruptcy reform elicited enthusiastic applause and a few whistles.

"When you listen to these privacy advocates, I love the language that they use: 'Your most intimate secrets will be on display at the A & M Credit Union in College Station,' " Sen. Gramm said. "Let me tell you - if your most intimate secret is on deposit at the A & M Credit Union, you are leading one heck of a dull life."

And he slammed those who, he said, take advantage of the current bankruptcy system.

"In Washington the buzzword today is predatory lending, but there are predatory borrowers," Sen. Gramm said. "Something is very wrong in America when we have prosperity at unprecedented levels, when we have 18 years of virtually uninterrupted prosperity, and yet when bankruptcies are at an all-time high."

The on-again, off-again rumor that Sen. Gramm plans to retire is on again. Texas Monthly magazine reported last week that "speculation has abounded" Sen. Gramm will not run for re-election, and his "recent announcement" that he would seek re-election in 2002 did "little to stop it." A Gramm spokesman called the rumors "baloney. "That's wishful thinking by Democrats," he said. "He's going to run, run hard, and win re-election."

Speaking of Sen. Gramm, the CQ Daily Monitor reported last week that the Senate Banking chairman was inducted into the Newspaper Carrier Hall of Fame in 1998 to honor his time as a newspaper delivery boy.Concerned that perhaps the Texas Republican had to take on a newspaper route to supplement his $145,100 annual government salary, American Banker was assured by his spokesman that the 58-year-old senator's newspaper carrying days were more than 40 years ago.

The spokesman explained that as a young teen-ager in Columbus, Ga., Sen. Gramm delivered the Ledger-Enquirer. "It's an indication of his early capitalist leanings, which have blossomed and made him the person he is today," the spokesman said.

Financial Services Roundtable president Steve Bartlett has no trouble getting a prime seat at big George W. Bush events.For the President's first address to Congress last week, House Republican leaders gave the former Texas GOP congressman and Dallas mayor a much-sought-after seat in the House public gallery just a few rows from the First Lady, Laura Bush. At the Republican National Convention back in August, Mr. Bartlett found himself sitting near the elder George Bush when his son accepted the GOP presidential nomination.

Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill fielded pointed questions at the National Treasury Employees Union's annual legislative conference last week before getting a standing ovation and being stopped on the way to his car by several autograph seekers.He quipped, "I know what real people say and think because I think I still am one," before getting down to issues such as workloads, worker safety and injury claims, and resources.

After a six-month stint, Edward Hill has left the National Governors Association to become vice president of federal government relations in Bank of America Corp.'s Washington lobbying shop.Mr. Hill was director of the association's economic development and commerce group. Before that he had been the Financial Services Roundtable's director of regulatory affairs.

The American Financial Services Association has hired Thomas J. Lehner as executive vice president for government affairs. He succeeds Jeffrey A. Tassey, who left the group on Jan. 12 to join the Washington law firm of Williams & Jensen PC.Mr. Lehner was former Sen. Charles S. Robb's chief of staff. Before joining Sen. Robb's office in 1993, Mr. Lehner was treasurer of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee under Sens. Robb and Bob Graham, D-Fla., and was budget director for the reelection committee of then-Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J.

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