WASHINGTON - As the search for a solution to the thrift insurance fund's problems intensified, one major bank trade group threatened to oppose any solution that addresses unrelated issues.
Kenneth A. Guenther, head of the Independent Bankers Association of America, said his group would oppose any package that also deals with Glass-Steagall repeal or a plan to let banks and insurance groups affiliate.
"I could see vast armies of community bankers marching day and night against any such solution," Mr. Guenther said. "If that's what a comprehensive solution is, there won't be a community bank in support of it."
Meanwhile, bank groups caucused with Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. chairman Ricki Helfer on Thursday in preparation for a July 28 Senate hearing on the problems surrounding the Savings Association Insurance Fund.
However, participants said nothing conclusive came from the session.
The American Bankers Association and the Bankers Roundtable last week said they would be willing to chip in part of the annual $780 million in interest on thrift cleanup bonds, known as Financing Corp., or Fico, bonds, but only in the context of broader reform that would include a merger of the bank and thrift charters.
While the administration has not yet weighed in with a formal proposal, the general principles of its thrift insurance fund rescue plan have been circulating for months.
Thrifts would have to pay a one-time, 85-basis-point fee, which would equal approximately $6.1 billion levied against the industry's $700 billion of deposits. Banks would have to carry a proportionate share of the Fico interest that could end up having banks shoulder around 75% of the burden.
And there also has been talk of using leftover Resolution Trust Corp. funds to cover the cost of future thrift losses.
However, some sources said if the SAIF recapitalization is attached to a spending and tax package - a notion that Senate Banking Committee members are reportedly considering - a broad solution simply cannot be in the immediate works.
"It's becoming clear that it's going to be a piecemeal approach," said bank consultant Bert Ely. "They're not going to get into the whole issue of merging charters, because you can't attach that to a budget reconciliation bill."
Instead, the plan would focus on the 85-basis-point hit on thrifts and banks' taking up a share of the Fico interest tab.
Taking up the SAIF rescue plan as a budget issue is attractive because it would be harder to stop and could help reduce the federal deficit.
"If all that money goes into this year's budget, then it reduces the size of the hole that has to be filled by other programs that come before the banking committees," said Karen Shaw Petrou, president of ISD/Shaw Inc.
ABA chief lobbyist Edward L. Yingling, said the banking industry will strongly oppose any "piecemeal approach."
"It must be comprehensive," Mr. Yingling said. "And we think it is an absolutely terrible precedent to be dealing with deposit insurance in a reconciliation bill. It would basically politicize deposit insurance."
Treasury Under Secretary John D. Hawke and FDIC Chairman Helfer are expected to testify at the upcoming Senate Banking Committee hearing, along with heads of bank and thrift trade groups.