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January 1, 2001

Names Change. What About the Politics?

By William Hoffman

The securities industry now faces new committee leadership in Congress. On the Senate side, William Roth (R-Del.), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, was unexpectedly defeated on Nov. 7. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) will take his place. Three GOP and four Democratic vacancies on the committee will also have to be filled by the leadership of the 107th Congress.

Furthermore, House Ways and Means Committee chairman Bill Archer's retirement threw open the leadership of Congress's premier tax-writing body. Rep. Phil Crane (R-Ill.) is the committee's most senior Republican returning from the 106th Congress, but he may face a challenge for the chairmanship.

Conservative Nightmare

Republicans' continuing control of the House appears to have prevented conservatives' worst nightmare from coming to pass: A House Ways and Means Committee chaired by Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.). Rangel is the ranking Democrat on the committee.

The GOP's razor-thin margin in both houses means "there will have to be a fair amount of harmony between Democrats and Republicans before we see any movement" on cherished securities industry priorities: capital gains and estate tax reductions and on tax legislation generally, said a securities industry lobbyist who spoke with Traders Magazine.

No one wanted to speculate about the future of Section 31 fee reductions. But pension and retirement savings initiatives, which could boost the private individual savings rate and thus stock market investment, may fare better under the new leadership.

Sen. Grassley supports Social Security and private pension reform, as well as expansion of Individual Retirement Accounts. The incoming ranking minority member of the Senate Finance Committee Max Baucus (D-Mont.), supports expanding private pension coverage, especially for smaller businesses.

Partisan Mistrust

Elizabeth Liess, director of retirement policy at the Securities Industry Association, suggested a stand-alone pension and IRA reform bill could neutralize some of the partisan mistrust anticipated in the early days of the new session. One such measure passed the 106th Congress by a vote of 401-25, she noted.

Listen carefully to the tone of partisans on both sides during presidential cabinet confirmation hearings after Jan. 20, the industry lobbyist suggested. If Democrats try to hold up presidential nominations, it's likely to be a contentious session, the lobbyist said.

The controversial outcome of the presidential campaign could also spill over into Congress's work, the lobbyist added. "We could see in switching administration a significant slowing in the work of government."