Sen. Phil Gramm and his spokesmen quickly tried to extinguish rumors on Capitol Hill last week that the Banking Committee chairman is about to become chancellor of the Texas A&M University System or president of its lead school in College Station.

In typical fashion, the Texas Republican used humor to deflate rampant speculation that he is ready to trade rough-and-tumble politics for the ivory tower.

Campus "politics and academic administration are too mean for me," Sen. Gramm, a former Texas A&M economics professor, told Bridge News. He said he plans to run for reelection in 2002.

A spokesman added that Sen. Gramm is "having the time of his life" as the senior senator from Texas and the Banking Committee chief. "There's only one job in life he'd like to have better: athletic director at Texas A&M. There's not an opening, so he's staying put."

Nor are openings imminent at the top of the Aggie flow chart. The university system hired former West Point superintendent Howard Graves as its chancellor about six months ago, and president Ray Bowen has no plans to resign, despite the bonfire collapse that killed 11 students and an alumnus there last fall.

Denials did not stop lobbyists and Hill staffers from debating the validity of rumors that the 57-year-old is ready to call it quits after 22 years in Congress. Most predicted that Sen. Gramm will stay because he is at the zenith of his power, is involved in too many pieces of legislation, and could be the next Treasury secretary if George W. Bush becomes President. However, a few argue that Sen. Gramm got his name on the financial reform law last year and wants to go out on top.

Don Powell, chairman of the university system's board of regents, insisted the rumors are "not true." Mr. Powell, president of First National Bank of Amarillo, said he is friends with Sen. Gramm and that the lawmaker expressed no interest in the A&M posts.

Legislation introduced in the House and Senate would use reserves in either the Bank Insurance Fund or the Savings Association Insurance Fund that exceed 1.4% of insured deposits to pay interest on the Financing Corp. bonds that helped bailout the thrift industry. As the bonds begin to be paid off in 2018, excess reserves would be rebated directly to banks and thrifts, provided the funds remain above 1.4%.Reps. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., and Mel Watt, D-N.C., have introduced the Deposit Insurance Fairness and Economic Opportunity Act in the House; Sens. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., and John Edwards, D-N.C., introduced it in the Senate.

"This would allow FDIC-insured institutions to keep almost $800 million they pay each year in FICO interest and reinvest these dollars into their communities," William A. Fitzgerald, chairman of America's Community Bankers, wrote to the co-sponsors last week.

Chief lobbyist Edward L. Yingling said the American Bankers Association supports the bill, too: "Regulators retain the ability to protect the funds while allowing policymakers to use excess amounts in a more productive manner."

?A siege mentality permeated the National Association of State Attorneys General meeting here in late March.

Washington Attorney General Christine O. Gregoire complained that a crew of 69 lobbyists from the retail and financial services industries - whom she accused of operating with "a very arrogant attitude" about what is best for consumers - descended on the state house in Olympia to quash tougher privacy legislation.

"They … don't want any single state to get a foot in the door on this issue out of concern that the other states will follow and that Congress will take this issue up and expand beyond where it went last year," Ms. Gregoire said.

Minnesota Attorney General Mike Hatch later told a bipartisan group of lawmakers that 50 lobbyists have been fighting tougher legislation in his state. The bunker mentality was so strong that Idaho Attorney General Alan G. Lance tossed a barb at U.S. Bancorp - which has been investigated in several states in connection with its sharing of information with telemarketers - when the sound system momentarily went dead during his talk. "U.S. Bank turned off my microphone," Mr. Lance quipped.

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