WASHINGTON - The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.'s new reform proposal is like a bag of assorted candies - there's a flavor for everybody's taste.
The "options paper" issued last week tackles such controversial subjects as when banks pay into the insurance funds and how much; how to toughen risk-based premium pricing; and whether to raise the coverage level per account. Yet the purposely open-ended 84-page document offers a broad menu of solutions, and most industry officials found that they could take what they wanted from it no matter what side of the issues they are on.
For example, proponents of an increase in coverage can point to a proposal to adjust the limit for inflation since 1980, which would nearly double it, to $198,000 per account. But the paper also allows critics of increased coverage to embrace another proposal - restating its original 1934 value in today's dollars, which would slash deposit insurance to $61,000 per account.
"This report reads like the Bible - you can interpret it any way that you want," said Bert Ely, an independent analyst in Alexandria, Va.
The agency's approach impressed analysts, who said the wide range of options assures lobbyists that all points of view will be represented in the debate.
Robert E. Litan, vice president of the Brookings Institution here, said the agency was able to use the paper to put more controversial items on the table without getting blasted for them.
"There are some proposals here that, if people had talked about them 10 or 15 years ago, you would have heard howls and screams," Mr. Litan said. "Now they are taken as one of many serious options."
The broad proposal calmed many of the agency's usual critics. Kenneth Guenther, executive vice president for the Independent Community Bankers of America, who weeks before had threatened that no reform could pass without a higher coverage limit, praised the proposals.
"FDIC Chairman Donna Tanoue has battled upstream on this," said Mr. Guenther. "She faced enormous pressure to take a coverage-level hike out of the paper, and she stuck to her guns."
Senate Banking Committee Chairman Phil Gramm, who shot down the notion of increased coverage the day Ms. Tanoue suggested it in a March speech, welcomed the options paper. His spokesman said Sen. Gramm was pleased the FDIC had issued a broad range of potential reforms - and hinted that he might have a few more to offer.
But while many praised the comprehensive treatment, signs of disputes on the horizon emerged as the agency and others attempt to distill the suggestions into final recommendations.
Critics said that though new ways for rescuing "too big to fail" banks were mentioned, the report barely scratched the surface of the issue, and left more questions than answers.
And representatives of a system where almost 93% of banks pay nothing for deposit insurance also reacted to what they portrayed as a blatant attempt to start charging premiums again.
"I think it's pretty clear they want premiums back," said Diane Casey, president of America's Community Bankers. "There are options here, but our conclusion is there is a price tag."
The American Bankers Association challenged Ms. Tanoue's repeated statements that banks have paid "not a penny" for the past few years.
"It ought to be clearly understood that the reason the fund is overfunded is that the banks have, in effect, prepaid insurance," said Edward Yingling, lead lobbyist for the American Bankers Association. "Any adjustments have to be done in the context of a rebate system, so that we don't end up pouring premiums into an already overfunded system."
The agency said that it will accept comments indefinitely, but that it wants to suggest specific proposals by the time the next Congress convenes, in January.
"This is the pebble at the top of the hillside," Mr. Ely said. "The agency is a long way from any recommendations.
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