Bank Panel's Watts Hoping to Justify High Profile

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In a field of 73 GOP freshman representatives in the last Congress, Oklahoma's J.C. Watts was a rookie sensation.

Only the second black Republican elected to the House since Reconstruction, the 39-year-old former football star was a favorite of party leaders.

Elected in November to a second term with a 58% majority in his southwestern Oklahoma district, the businessman and ordained Baptist minister has obvious appeal. He's self-confident, even boisterous, before an audience.

The GOP, eager to make the most of its minority success stories, has pushed Julius Caesar Watts Jr. into high-profile roles whenever possible.

Last August, the father of five landed a prime-time speech at the Republican National Convention. The former University of Oklahoma signal- caller wowed the crowd by quipping that vice presidential nominee and ex- Buffalo Bill field general Jack Kemp was only the party's "second-best quarterback."

On Thanksgiving Day, Rep. Watts gave the GOP's traditional message to the country, in which he praised Congress for overhauling welfare.

To the delight of bankers in his home state, Rep. Watts has just signed up for another stint on the House Banking Committee and hopes to create a legislative record to justify his growing media prominence.

His priority: cutting regulations so banks can loan more money.

"Economic growth is at 2.4% annually, and I think we can do much better," he said in an interview. "Financial institutions are obviously critical to economic growth and contribute most when they can make loans and get money into the marketplace to small business and entrepreneurs."

Though he made little impact during his first term on the banking panel, he plans to step up his efforts this year.

He said he would reintroduce the one major piece of banking-related legislation he sponsored in the last Congress, a proposal to give banks Community Reinvestment Act credit for lending in poor and rural areas designated as "renewal communities."

Co-sponsored by Jim Talent of Missouri, chairman of the House Small Business Committee, the controversial plan would require state and local leaders to cut taxes and reduce licensing and zoning burdens in communities nominated for the program.

In addition to expanded CRA credit, the program would offer a variety of tax breaks for businesses that invest in these communities.

"One of the real burdens of the minority community is lack of capital," he said. "We've got to do things that create capital for these communities, such as modifying the tax code."

Though the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee's human resources subcommittee held hearings on the bill in July, the proposal went nowhere. …