WASHINGTON -- While the House Banking Committee's plan to fund the thrift bailout remains mired in controversy, the full House has quietly approved legislation to provide $2.7 billion or more for the cleanup effort.

An appropriations bill, which passed last week without a murmur of dissent, would authorize the Treasury Department to disburse "such sums as may be necessary" for the fledgling Savings Association Insurance Fund, or SAIF, under authority from the 1989 thrift bailout law. The money would be available after Oct. 1.

For budget purposes, the House Appropriations Committee estimated that the funding would amount to about $2.7 billion for fiscal 1994, which begins on Oct. 1. However, the 1989 bailout law appears to permit larger borrowings -- perhaps as much as $4 billion -- for the year.

Two-Step Process

The federal government provides money in a two-step process of authorization and appropriation. The 1989 law authorized up to $32 billion in two separate pools, subject to annual limits. How those limits are interpreted would determine how much money SAIF could receive if the House-passed appropriation is enacted into law.

The Senate has not yet taken up the appropriations bill.

Although the funding provided by the appropriation is less than the amount approved by the banking committee, it would come without any of the tough restrictions imposed by the banking panel. As a result, it could provide more money that would actually be available under the banking committee version.

It is unclear, however, what would happen if both bills are enacted into law. If the appropriations bill is signed first, the money it provides could be made available without regard to the restrictions in the banking committee bill, said Paul A. Schosberg president of the Savings and Community Bankers of America.

Looking for Votes

But the Clinton administration is still searching for the votes it will need to pass the banking committee bill on the House floor, and many observers think a vote on the bill could be delayed until late July or even September.

In that case, the appropriations bill approved last week could be the only funding mechanism available when the new fiscal year starts.

Ironically, the SAIF measure could provide funds for institutions managed by the Resolution Trust Corp., according to one congressional source.

"The big question is whether the SAIF money could be used to fund RTC conservatorships, since they are paying SAIF premiums," said a Republican congressional source, who asked not to be named.

The funding measure passed by the House Banking Committee provides $18.3 billion for the RTC, and permits the agency to transfer unused amounts to SAIF.

The appropriation, if enacted into law, could take pressure off efforts to pass the RTC funding measure. Some thrifts, bitterly disappointed by the restrictions on SAIF funding, are opposing the bill, according to congressional and industry sources.

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