WASHINGTON -- Treasury Secretary Nicholas Brady yesterday asked Congress for another $80 billion to pay off depositors' losses at savings and loan institutions over the next two years.
Appearing before the Senate Banking Committee in his role as chairman of the oversight board of the Resolution Trust Corp., Mr. Brady also estimated that the RTC will have to borrow an additional $100 billion in working capital to finance the takeover of failed thrifts until they are sold.
The working capital would be repaid by the sale of thrift assets, although the congressional General Accounting Office recently questioned whether the government would be able to recover the full amount borrowed.
To date, the RTC has paid out some $80 billion for depositor losses and borrowed about $58 billion in working capital from the Federal Financing Bank, which is part of the Treasury Department. The financing bank has authority under current law to loan thrift cleanup officials up to $125 billion. Mr. Brady's request would push that cap up to $160 billion.
Overall, the latest RTC requests for additional money would be to keep the thrift bailout operation going until Sept. 30, 1993, the end of the fiscal year. However, the pace of the cleanup has been lagging this year, renewing complaints from critics about the mounting cost to taxpayers.
Mr. Brady acknowledged that the latest estimates needed to take care of the escalating thrift bailout costs depended on the course of the economy, interest rates, and real estate markets. If the real estate industry "sinks into a dismal mess," the losses could go higher, he warned, although he added he did not think this would happen.
Mr. Brady appeared before the committee along with Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan and other members of the RTC oversight board to deliver a semiannual report on the thrift rescue operations.
Mr. Greenspan was asked to say very little during the hearing, but he did comment that the credit crunch appears to have "topped out" and is "showing very little improvement." Banks continue to be reluctant lenders because they want to build up their capital, and regulatory constraints remain a problem, Mr. Greenspan said.
Mr. Greenspan also expressed hope that the credit crunch will soon start easing, which would presumably remove a reason for the Fed to lower short-term rates. He added his hopes that "within a reasonable period of time, this issue will be moving in the right direction." He did not elaborate, but Richmond Federal Reserve Bank President Robert Black said recently that he hopes an improving economy will revive bank lending.
Senate Banking Committee members spent over an hour making opening statements before Mr. Brady testified to complain about the pace and cost of the thrift cleanup and to raise questions about the RTC's bureaucracy. Concerns concerns about the cleanup have been magnified by reports about the dwindling bank insurance fund of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., which the Bush administration wants replenished as part of separate legislation to overhaul the commercial banking industry.
"There's a great concern this is sort of getting out of control a bit," said Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn. "If there's a public perception that this isn't being handled properly," he told the oversight board, "you're going to have a dreadful time."
Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-Md., warned of a "growing crisis of confidence with respect to the oversight board and the RTC."
FDIC Chairman William Seidman last week recommended appointing a chief executive to run the government cleanup and to answer to Congress, which would relieve the oversight board of its direct supervisory role. Mr. Brady agreed with the suggestion and said efforts are underway to find someone for the position.