In what may be the most important lobbying efforts of their careers, Reps. Richard H. Baker, R-La., and Marge Roukema, R-N.J., turned their attention last week to the 25-member steering committee choosing a replacement for House Banking Committee Chairman Jim Leach, who is required by Republican term limits to relinquish the gavel.

Both candidates turned in voluminous briefing papers (a 28-page reference guide for Rep. Roukema and about 18 pages for Rep. Baker) to supplement their interviews last week. But both candidates stopped short of making the Power Point presentations that some other contenders did.

In their interviews with steering committee members, Rep. Roukema, who is the front-runner on the basis of seniority, and Rep. Baker both stressed their years of experience with banking issues and their skills working across the aisle with Democrats.

As evidence, Rep. Baker cited his agreement with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in October to improve their disclosure and risk management practices. That experience showed “you do not necessarily always have to pass legislation to achieve your goal,” said Rep. Baker, who heads the capital markets subcommittee. “By using my own political skills, I was able to reach an agreement that did not require Congress to act.”

Rep. Roukema, chairwoman of the financial institutions subcommittee, listed as her most notable legislative contribution her early work on financial services reform. “It was in many ways the nucleus that came to be known as Gramm-Leach-Bliley,” she said.

In a speech to an America’s Community Bankers conference last week, Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan gave the stock markets a temporary jolt by implying that interest rates may start falling soon.But it was another element of the speech that set community bankers’ hearts racing: Mr. Greenspan’s apparent endorsement of proposed legislation to allow banks to pay interest on business checking accounts.

“Pending legislation modernizing the law would potentially help bolster deposit growth and open opportunities for other profitable customer relationships without the unproductive and costly circumventions of the existing statute,” he said.

Bank of America Corp. is helping preserve President Clinton’s place in history by donating $500,000 to his presidential library in Little Rock. Chairman Hugh McColl said the donation made by the Bank of America Foundation last week is part of the institution’s continuing support for a city where it does significant business. The donation will be used to help build the library and develop programs.

In case anyone would claim preferential treatment, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported that the foundation gave the same amount to the George Bush Presidential Library in College Station, Tex., and $250,000 to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif.

At least one important new face will be on the Senate Banking Committee next year: Majority Whip Don Nickles, R-Okla., the No. 2 in command in the Senate and reportedly a close friend of committee Chairman Phil Gramm.

The merging banking companies J.P. Morgan & Co. and Chase Manhattan Corp. plan to combine their lobby shops as well. Chief J.P. Morgan lobbyist Cory N. Strupp will be “co-head” of government affairs with his counterpart at Chase, L. Thomas Block, according to sources at J.P. Morgan. The merger deal is scheduled to close Jan. 2.

More than $850 billion of risky loans will cause the banking system to collapse next month and make currency worthless — at least according to the lead article in a recent edition of Weekly World News, which said a secret government report proves that a recession is imminent.The supermarket tabloid cited a purported General Accounting Office report as saying that “as the major banks go under like dying dinosaurs, the behemoths will take down the nation’s economy with them — calling in all loans in a frantic effort to stay alive.”

Though the tabloid assured readers that people would be “wrestling in gutters over moldy crusts of bread” after the collapse, other articles in that issue indicated that a major banking crisis may be the least of Americans’ worries. The publication predicted that evil robots would make slaves of human beings, and another story said that demons from hell have invaded the country and are intent on stealing souls.

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