After months of wrangling over the details, the House has scheduled a Wednesday vote on legislation to shore up the thrift deposit insurance fund.
Senate Banking Committee Chairman Alfonse M. D'Amato is expected to complete his version of the rescue package on Monday and push for a quick vote as well.
While these are big steps forward, legislation to capitalize the Savings Association Insurance Fund is far from a done deal.
In fact, on Thursday banking industry leaders criticized the Senate bill because they fear it will not contain a provision barring thrifts from shifting deposits into the Bank Insurance Fund.
In a letter to Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, American Bankers Association president James M. Culberson Jr. complained that the Clinton administration was urging the Senate to prepare a bill without any limits on deposit shifting and with few rollbacks of consumer protection rules.
"We want to make it clear that the ABA would have to aggressively oppose any such bill," he said.
Mr. Culberson's designated successor, First Hawaiian Inc. chief executive Walter A. Dods Jr., said allowing large thrifts to withdraw from SAIF will weaken the fund, and that's exactly what the administration has been trying to avoid.
"It's just inconsistent public policy," Mr. Dods said.
The ABA is also upset about the turn regulatory relief has taken in recent days on Capitol Hill. All but one of the 21 Democrats on the House Banking Committee asked Rep. Jim Leach to drop the regulatory relief provision in his bill to fix the thrift fund.
If the House bill does not contain significant red tape relief, Mr. Dods said, "that would definitely be a deal breaker for the ABA."
In a committee hearing on Thursday, Rep. Joseph Kennedy, D-Mass., lambasted Rep. Leach for weakening consumer protection rules.
Clearly frustrated, Rep. Leach fired back that several regulatory provisions in his bill were amended to accommodate Democrats. "All of the changes have been in the direction of the concerns of your side," he said.
Rep. Kennedy shot back: "That's just not right, that's not fair."
A member of the committee's Democratic staff predicted Thursday that mounting industry opposition will kill the bill. "There's too much opposition. More and more banks are opposing it," the staffer said.
For now, the ABA and the Independent Bankers Association of America support Rep. Leach's legislation.
Both trade groups figure their members will have to pay to fix the thrift fund, and believe the best deal is being offered by Rep. Leach. His bill was modified in July to postpone the bulk of the banking industry's cost for three years. In addition to a ban on deposit shifting and regulatory relief, Rep. Leach's bill urges Congress to clarify when bankers are responsible for cleaning up contaminated properties.
However, several large banks are lobbying against Rep. Leach's bill because he has tacked on new insurance rules that would give state regulators the right to dictate licensing requirements for all insurance agents, including employees of national banks. Opponents of the measure include Barnett Banks Inc., Banc One Corp., and BankAmerica Corp.
Still unclear is what's in Sen. D'Amato's bill. Reportedly, the New York Republican will propose the same thrift fund solution backed by the House panel. The Senate bill is expected to contain environmental lender liability but not a ban on deposit shifting.
As partisan fights brew and the banking industry angles for the best deal, the congressional clock is ticking. Lawmakers are currently scheduled to wrap up the current session at the end of the month.