House Banking Committee members joined regulators Tuesday in opposing a short-term fix for the Savings Association Insurance Fund.
"I am deeply committed to resolving this issue once and for all this year," said Rep. Marge Roukema, R-N.J., chairman of the panel's financial institutions and consumer credit subcommittee.
"The SAIF is in real, deep trouble," added Rep. Bill McCollum, the banking panel's second-ranking Republican. "The only solution to prevent a shift (in deposits) is a comprehensive solution."
This shift would occur as institutions pull out of the higher-cost savings association fund. Thrift fund members currently pay a 23-cent premium for every $100 of domestic deposits, while members of the Bank Insurance Fund pay far less - $2,000 a year regardless of their size.
Legislation to capitalize the thrift fund and bring thrifts' premiums in line with banks' was approved by Congress but attached to the balanced- budget bill that President Clinton vetoed in December.
That measure would have forced banks to assume $600 million in annual payments for the Financing Corp. bonds used to launch the thrift industry bailout in the late 1980s.
Supporters are now trying to tack the bill on to other legislation, but last week House Banking Committee Chairman Jim Leach, R-Iowa, said he did not expect a comprehensive thrift fund fix to pass this year.
To avert a default on the Fico bonds, Rep. Leach proposed a quick fix: permitting premiums paid on any thrift fund deposit to be used for the bond payments. Currently, premiums paid on thrift deposits owned by banks and by thrifts that converted to banks may not be used to service the bonds.
Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan opposed the idea because it would do nothing to alleviate the disparity in premiums and leave the thrift fund "inherently unstable."
Also opposing a short-term fix were Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Chairman Ricki Helfer, Treasury Under Secretary John Hawke Jr., and Jonathan Fiechter, acting director of the Office of Thrift Supervision.
James F. Montgomery, chairman of America's Community Bankers, warned that thrifts would accelerate plans to flee their insurance fund if a short-term fix is pursued.
Rep. McCollum urged lawmakers to stick with the broader plan, which the banking industry is trying to defeat.
"I wish we weren't taxing banks, but I think it is in their best interest as well as the taxpayers,'" the Florida Republican said.
Rep. Roukema said Congress should reconsider her proposal, which would not only capitalize the fund but also unify the bank and thrift charters. That bill was approved by the House Banking Committee in the fall, but was pushed aside when the thrift fund fix was included in the balanced-budget bill.
Rep. McCollum suggested that banks may drop their opposition to the thrift fund rescue if lawmakers break the logjam stalling other banking legislation.
He urged Rep. Leach to separate legislation granting banks regulatory relief from the Glass-Steagall reform bill, which has been stalled by disputes between bankers and insurance agents.
"I suspect commercial bankers, while not happy with paying on Fico bonds, would accept it if we pushed regulatory reform," the Florida Republican said.
James M. Culberson Jr., president of the American Bankers Association, opposed any thrift fund legislation this year.
"These doomsday scenarios, plus overly pessimistic projections by the FDIC, have created a sense of crisis when in fact no crisis exists," he said.