WASHINGTON - In the legislative battle over the fragile Savings Association Insurance Fund, it will be tough for the American Bankers Association to declare victory.
Of the seven points ABA has insisted are key to the banking industry, just one has materialized so far: The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. slashed bank premiums 83%, dropping the average rate to 4.4 cents per $100 of domestic deposits.
"I think the one positive thing ... is the large reduction in the premiums," said Edward L. Yingling, ABA's lead lobbyist. "That's the one thing we have accomplished."
Mr. Yingling is quick to point out, however, that the legislative struggle is far from over. "I have no idea what the final score will be," he said. "We're in the middle of a big fight."
The ABA took a huge risk on July 14 when it abandoned its long and fiercely held position that the problems facing the savings association fund were not urgent.
But the thrift industry convinced Congress otherwise and Senate Banking Committee Chairman Alfonse M. D'Amato made it clear he planned to include a thrift fund fix in a fast-track budget bill.
Realizing it could not stop the federal budget, ABA declared late on a Friday in July that it would join the debate.
The terms under which the banking industry would participate in a rescue of the thrift fund were laid out in letters ABA sent the House and Senate banking committee chairmen, the Treasury secretary, and the FDIC chairman on July 14.
In the three months since then, ABA has chalked up one solid victory and conceded defeat on another issue.
ABA tried in vain to pull Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and credit unions into the mix. "All parties with a potential interest" in the thrift fund's revival "should be required to contribute financially," ABA wrote in July.
"That was always a long shot," Mr. Yingling admitted last week. "It's just not going to happen."
The five other points are still in flux.
First, ABA demanded that thrifts alone rebuild their fund.
This is the direction lawmakers are heading, but the legislation is still pending. To capitalize the fund, a one-time fee of about 85 basis points would be levied on all thrift deposits. Banks would have to pay, too, but not to rebuild the fund. Instead, banks would pay about 75% of the annual interest, or $780 million, for the next 20 years on the Financing Corp. bonds. Per bank, that would add 2.5 cents to the insurance premium.
ABA also insisted the solution be comprehensive. This means it must blend the best of the bank and thrift charters and give banks new powers and/or regulatory relief in return for helping bail out the thrift fund.
ABA is on the road to such a comprehensive fix, but a long way from nailing it down.
"That's not a done deal, but we feel like we've made an awful lot of progress," Mr. Yingling said.
Still, ABA has strayed from its original goal of one huge bill addressing all the issues. Mr. Yingling said he expects legislation shoring up the thrift fund will pass this year and Glass-Steagall and regulatory reform will be enacted by this time next year.
In addition, Congress appears uninterested in beefing up the bank charter with any of the thrift's added powers. But Mr. Yingling is still hopeful the barriers between commercial and investment banking will be torn down in separate legislation.
"The Glass-Steagall battle is still roaring," he said.
Finally, ABA said banks should not be charged any more for deposit insurance than is needed to maintain the fund at 1.25%. Premiums, ABA said in July, "should be considerably below the 4.5 cent average."
The House has agreed to limit the FDIC's ability to build its reserves, but the Senate has not weighed in.