At 70, William Proxmire Looks to Reagan Banking Panel Chair
Naylor, Bartlett, American Banker
Under Sen. Garn, the banking committee has called no hearings on such industry scandals as E.F. Hutton & Co., the brokerage firm that pleaded guilty earlier this year to bilking millions from dozens of banks in a check overdraft scheme.
Observers agree that "Prox" would have called hearings into problems of that magnitude.
Mr. Proxmire's is cautions about criticizing his colleague and chairman. "I like Sen. Garn. We get along very well. I don't want to get into the subject of his chairmanship."
But the activist legislator says he feels that these are important times. Although he has seen his share of crises, the Senate veteran says banking problems "are worse now."
'Only a Prologue'
"The farm problem [we've seen] so far is only a prologue," Mr. Proxmire says. He also cites the international debt problem. "Some time," he says, "I think we're going to be in really serious trouble."
As the ranking minority member on the Banking Committee, he has no power to call hearings, and he leaves most of the bill-writing to Mr. Garn. At hearings, however, he often serves as the most probing interrogator.
Other members ramble through disorganized speeches or ask questions whose answers are found in high school textbooks. Others simply do not attend the hearings.
Mr. Proxmire attends nearly all hearings, and he asks prepared questions that he has researched with his staff. At confirmation hearings, Mr. Proxmire is famous for bringing up problems concerning nominees that other committee members have ignored.
He has not issued a floor vote since 1966 -- the longest record in Senate history.
And although he turned 70 yesterday, Mr. Proxmire remains vigorous by jogging five miles each day to work. He is not too old to be just a little jealous of the superior jogging speed of Mr. Garn: "I couldn't keep up with him, but he's only about 45." (Mr. Garn is 53.)
Mr. Proxmire inspires respect among a wide circle of public officials, including ideological adversaries, and even bankers. John W. Johnson, former president of the Wisconsin Bankers Association and president of the Bank of Spring Green, differs on major banking issues with his senator.
Yet, Mr. Johnson says, Mr. Proxmire "understands the problems of banks," and if he becomes chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, "I see that as a positive." Mr. Johnson adds that he also supports Mr. Garn.
As an antagonist of bank expansion, Mr. Proxmire is hailed by the Independent Bankers Association of America, which is composed largely of community banks. Says Kenneth Guenther, executive director of the Indendent Bankers: "Bill Proxmire is the best man in the Senate for promoting, protecting and nurturing a diversified banking system."
Consumer advocates generally laud Mr. Proxmire. Says Alan Fox, banking expert for the Consumer Federation of America: "He is accessible and understands the need to deal with problems of the unsophisticated consumers. …