Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Chairman Ricki Helfer this week intensified her efforts to broker a deal to capitalize the thrift insurance fund before Congress adjourns in October.
"I have sensed that there is willingness among participants in the system to sit down and work out a meaningful solution," Ms. Helfer said Wednesday.
FDIC officials began talks this week with industry groups to settle disagreements over who should pay for long-term bonds used to bail out the thrift industry in the late 1980s. Talks with officials from America's Community Bankers - the thrift trade group - and the Independent Bankers Association of America were held Tuesday. American Bankers Association leaders said they will meet with agency executives "in the next few days."
ABA chief lobbyist Edward L. Yingling said his group may compromise. "It's a matter of a package that can be put together," he said. "To the degree that some parts of the package are better, we can be flexible on other parts."
The trade group, however, has given no indication that it is close to a deal. Mr. Yingling said ABA has not dropped its demand that Congress create an enhanced, merged charter before making banks pay on the Financing Corp. bonds. Most lawmakers have complained that too little time remains to resolve such a complicated issue.
Sources said Ms. Helfer is trying to prod the groups by arguing that banks and thrifts lose if a plan is not enacted this year. Thrifts need a quick fix to reduce the premium disparity, and banks need a deal to eliminate the risk that Congress will merge a failing SAIF fund into the bank fund without requiring thrifts to kick in the special assessment.
"I continue to believe that it is in everybody's best interest - banks, thrifts, the FDIC and the financial system - to resolve the problems of SAIF as soon as possible," Ms. Helfer said.
Although the administration has not disavowed the plan currently before Congress - which makes banks pick up most of the $800 million annual Fico bond obligation and forces thrifts to recapitalize the Savings Association Insurance Fund with a one-time assessment - Ms. Helfer is trying to find a different path to end the stalemate.
FDIC officials would not comment specifically on possible compromises, but lawmakers and trade groups have floated several in recent months. Alternatives include making thrifts contribute to Fico bonds at a higher rate until the industry charters and insurance funds are merged, and making insurance premiums from banks that own thrift deposits help pay for the bonds.
Mr. Yingling said the FDIC's initiative indicates the administration has acknowledged that "another approach has to be taken - that's a hurdle that had to be jumped."
The House Banking Committee will weigh in on a Fico funding formula July 25 when it votes on a balanced budget bill. Committee Chairman Jim Leach told his panel Tuesday that he will propose splitting the Fico burden evenly between federal insured depository institutions and housing-related government sponsored entities, including the Federal National Mortgage Association and the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp.
The proposal by Rep. Leach (R-Iowa) has great appeal to banks because it would cut their annual tab by $292 million. But the Iowa Republican has previously proposed making Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac assume Fico payments, only to be overruled by House leaders.
Rep. Leach said he expects a wide range of options to be proposed when the issue comes before his panel and added that he is willing to consider alternatives to making the government agencies pay. "My bedrock is, I want to get it resolved," he said.