WASHINGTON The powerful congressional committee that oversees the financial sector, which has had a contentious relationship with Wall Street, could change its tenor considerably if Republicans win big in the November elections.
The irascible Barney Frank could possibly be ousted as chairman of the House of Representatives Financial Services Committee by the mild-mannered Spencer Bachus.
Bachus, a conservative Alabama Republican, is the virtual polar opposite of Frank, a liberal Massachusetts Democrat. In both style and substance, the contrast is stark and would be reflected in the panel's tone and its policy agenda.
The two men often clash publicly in committee meetings and Bachus frequently feels the sting of Frank's razor-sharp wit.
"He's very intelligent. I don't think that's any secret, and I don't take his insults personally," Bachus said at the Reuters Washington Summit on Thursday.
"One of the criticisms is I don't get in his face and holler at him," said the slow-talking Southerner. "But I've never thought that the legislative process needed to be similar to what you see in Taiwan, with people taking chairs and breaking them over each others' heads."
Beyond personal style, the House Financial Services Committee under Bachus would be very different.
He said his top priority, if he were to become chairman, would be to repeal portions of the massive banking and Wall Street reform bill approved by Congress in July.
Known as the Dodd-Frank bill, after Frank and Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd, the bill was opposed by Bachus and every other House Republican. Bachus said he would not even wait for the start of a new Congress next year to begin to take action.
"I'd try to do it between now and the end of the year," Bachus said of his proposal to kill part of the bill dealing with the orderly liquidation of troubled financial firms.
In spite of tension with Frank, Bachus said: "We have been able, even in Dodd-Frank, to make some meaningful changes. There have been things where we have agreed."
FRIENDLIER TO MARKETS?
Financial markets might view Bachus as friendlier to their interests, but he said that is not necessarily the case.
"I have offended a lot of lobbyists and there are lobbyists who don't want me to be the ranking member or the chairman," he said when asked about a 2008 challenge from within his own party to his status as the committee's top Republican.
During the high drama of the financial crisis, Bachus faced a possible no-confidence vote among his peers after they accused him of mishandling negotiations with Democrats over the Bush administration's $700 billion bank bailout plan.
Bachus jokingly called the episode a "near-death experience." He survived it with the support of House Republican Leader John Boehner, whom Bachus supported in 2006 when Boehner prevailed in his own bid for power.
In recent months, with elections approaching in November, aides have speculated that Bachus' claim to the chairmanship might again be in jeopardy. Rumors have circulated of possible challenges from congressmen Ed Royce or Jeb Hensarling.
But Bachus dismissed such speculation and said he had spoken with Boehner on the matter on Wednesday.
"He said, 'You're okay,' ... I mean, if I had a problem with you, I'd tell you," Bachus said of his talk with Boehner.
In an interview, Bachus gave one answer that was both characteristically humble and sharply different from the kind of response that might have been expected from Frank.
Asked whether Congress should consider legislation dealing with China and allegations that it manipulates its currency to promote exports, hurting the United States, Bachus said:
"Do they manipulate their currency? Yes. ... I'm going to say this. I don't know that I'm qualified to take a position on that" question of possible legislation.
"I don't know all the facts. ... I could tell you that there could be benefits but there would also be substantial harm to our economy," he said. "It would be a dicey decision."
(Reporting by Kevin Drawbaugh; Editing by Leslie Adler)