Seeking a 12th term, House Banking Committee Chairman Jim Leach won his party's primary race last week. Once again, the Iowa Republican's challenger is Cedar Rapids lawyer Bob Rush.

Rep. Leach beat Mr. Rush, a strong fund-raiser in 1996, with only 52% of the vote.

Another Republican on the Banking Committee, Rep. Marge Roukema, survived a scare in the New Jersey primary last week, winning with 53% of the vote over state Rep. Scott Garrett. At issue was whether Rep. Roukema, a nine-term congresswoman, is conservative enough. Her Democratic opponent this fall will be TV journalist Mike Schneider.

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Bank executives plotting big mergers better watch out for a rejuvenated Sen. Arlen Specter.

The Pennsylvania Republican, an outspoken critic of the First Union- CoreStates merger and similar megadeals, underwent double-bypass heart surgery last week after checking into a Philadelphia hospital with chest pain. His illness led Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, to postpone until July a Judiciary subcommittee hearing on bank merger mania. But by then Sen. Specter is expected back in fighting form. In recent years he has bounced back from brain surgery and the removal of noncancerous tumors.

"He is probably hosting a fund-raiser in the coronary unit tonight," a Republican insider told the Philadelphia Daily News after the surgery.

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It's official. President Clinton has said he will appoint Federal Reserve Board Vice Chairman Alice M. Rivlin to head the D.C. Control Board, the panel created by Congress to turn the capital city around. Ms. Rivlin only agreed to take the post if she could continue to work at the Fed. After some arm-twisting on Capitol Hill, lawmakers agreed. Through the summer, she will work alongside the board's chairman, Andrew F. Brimmer, another Fed veteran.

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Every day last week brought new rumors about Treasury Under Secretary John D. Hawke Jr. becoming comptroller of the currency.

The nomination has been rumored for weeks and is likely to finally happen before the end of the month. Mr. Hawke would succeed Eugene A. Ludwig, whose five-year term ended in early April. Julie L. Williams, the agency's chief counsel, is doing the job on an acting basis.

Mr. Hawke, a former Fed general counsel who is often referred to as the dean of banking lawyers, went through the confirmation process in 1995 for his current position. Senate approval is likely, but expect lawmakers to criticize his recent insistence that banks be permitted to conduct new activities in direct subsidiaries.

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James Leonard "Len" Skiles was named acting executive director of the National Credit Union Administration, but like most things at the agency these days, the move caused a lot of controversy.

The executive director slot first opened in September 1997 when Karl Hoyle was suspended and subsequently fired. Since then the three-member board has not been able to agree on a permanent successor.

NCUA Chairman Norman E. D'Amours has backed three people for the job, but all were rejected by fellow board members Yolanda Wheat and Dennis Dollar. On May 28 the two voted to appoint Mr. Skiles over Mr. D'Amours' objection. Mr. Skiles is a career NCUA employee who runs the NCUA's asset liquidation center in Austin, Tex.

"I think it's a mistake to have a careerist in a job like that," said Mr. D'Amours, who would prefer a political appointee in the position. But "that does not mean that I cannot or will not work cooperatively" with Mr. Skiles, he added. "I have a very civil approach to my relationships with people."

Mr. Skiles' temporary term expires July 31, but the NCUA board is expected to vote to make it permanent before then.

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James W. Brock, professor of economics at Miami University, Oxford, Ohio, knocked federal antitrust regulators last week for their reluctance to step in the path of bank megamergers.

Testifying before the House Judiciary Committee last week, Mr. Brock said the government officials who testified before him - representatives of the Federal Reserve System, the Justice Department, and the Federal Trade Commission - were wrong when they said that bank consolidation will not harm consumers.

"Listening to the first panel, I am glad they aren't in charge of the Federal Emergency Management Administration," Mr. Brock said. "They would go to a tornado site, see a blade of grass still standing, and conclude that nothing is wrong."

One needs only to look at Asia for proof that bigger is not necessarily better, Mr. Brock said.

"Seven of the world's 10 largest banks are in Japan," he said. "So are seven of the 10 biggest failures, and now seven of the 10 largest bailouts."

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