WASHINGTON - Separate plans to rescue the thrift insurance fund were approved in House and Senate budget packages last week, and the banking committees are now preparing to reconcile differences between the two versions.

Both plans call for thrifts to pay a special assessment of 85 cents on each $100 of deposits and for banks to assume $12 billion in payments for long-term bonds to pay off the thrift industry's first bailout in 1987.

The House version, however, calls for a merger of the thrift and bank insurance funds and elimination of the thrift charter by January 1998. The Senate plan outlines only a "narrow fix," which focuses on the financial questions and leaves the charter and merger issues for future debate.

The Senate version also contains a 5% break on the one-time assessment for so-called Oakar banks with $200 billion in thrift deposits. The House version includes no breaks for Oakars, but the House Banking Committee has approved separate legislation giving these banks even more generous breaks. Committee Chairman Jim Leach has said this bill could be worked into the budget bill when the two panels compromise.

The House version goes far beyond the Senate's. It would resolve many of the thorny problems created by eliminating the thrift charter, including extension of special powers for thrifts and unitary thrift holding companies.

Though the lawmakers are expected to begin their conference this week , bank lobbyists said Friday that they have little idea how the final bill will come out.

"I don't think the dance or play has begun - both sides have been consumed by getting their versions of the budget through," said Kenneth Guenther, executive vice president of the Independent Bankers Association of America.

Still, many banking sources are speculating that Senate Banking Committee Chairman Alfonse M. D'Amato will win.

When his panel's budget plan was approved in September, Sen. D'Amato said he was not willing to broaden the bill to encompass such thorny issues as eliminating the thrift charter.

Rep. Leach, however, has been insisting that the solution be "galactic." He said he does not believe the thrift fund bailout is necessary right now and is reluctant to go ahead with the rescue without eliminating bank and thrift charter differences at the same time.

New Congressional Budget Office estimates indicating that the thrift fund bailout is no longer needed to meet budget targets increases the likelihood that the rescue will be dropped, said Edward L. Yingling, chief lobbyist for the American Bankers Association.

Though eliminating the thrift fund rescue is now an option, lobbyists said Sen. D'Amato may be willing to discuss one charter-related issue: treatment of past thrift tax breaks.

Though he may not be willing to tackle such thorny topics as phasing out special powers allowed to thrifts or unitary thrift holding companies, he appears willing to consider House efforts to resolve tax questions caused by charter conversion.

"Our impression is he doesn't want to deal with the charter issue, but does want to deal with the tax issue," said J. Denis O'Toole, vice president of federal government relations at Household International.

Resolving the tax issue is key to thrift industry support for the bill.

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