The long-delayed Savings Association Insurance Fund rescue will be on the table as congressional leaders scramble to craft government debt and spending bills this week.

With lawmakers returning to work in earnest today, leaders are gauging support for various plans to fund the government beyond the current March 15 deadline.

The $6 billion capitalization of the thrift insurance fund, which was approved by Congress last year but then stalled by the budget deadlock with President Clinton, could be attached to any of the debt and spending bills.

For the past month, House Republicans have looked for ways to use the thrift fund fix and the up-front money it generates to offset tax cuts they want to attach to the federal funding bills.

Sources said House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Archer, R- Tex., plans to include tax cuts in a bill increasing the debt limit. That legislation is a likely place for the thrift fund bailout and a related measure to recapture thrift tax breaks.

Both banking measures, which have bipartisan support, raise money that House leaders could use to quell Democratic opposition to the tax and spending cuts. "They are almost certain to be looking for noncontroversial money-raisers," said thrift industry lobbyist James Butera.

Another option would be to attach the thrift fund fix to a spending bill that must be passed by March 15.

Lawmakers also must decide whether to continue funding the government with short-term "continuing resolutions" or to attempt a scaled-down version of the balanced budget plan that President Clinton vetoed in December.

A new budget bill would be a better vehicle for the banking legislation because congressional accounting rules would not let the thrift fund fix be counted as revenue if it is attached to a continuing resolution.

The debt ceiling increase may pose similar problems as well, said Karen Shaw Petrou, president of ISD/Shaw, a Washington bank consulting firm. "There are all sorts of vehicles out there and most are very vulnerable," she said.

Significant opposition could doom any amendment's chances. The American Bankers Association is now lobbying hard against the SAIF fix, which would force banks to assume roughly $550 million in annual payments for bonds used to pay for the 1987 thrift industry bailout.

"The bankers are playing a very effective game of block-that-kick," Ms. Petrou said.

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