WASHINGTON -- Any further funding for the nation's savings and loan cleanup beyond an immediate $20 billion infusion would require tax increases or spending cuts under a plan given final approval yesterday by the House Banking Committee's financial institutions subcommittee.
Voting 20 to 16, the panel sent the measure to the full banking committee, where the fate of the pay-as-you-go funding provision is uncertain.
The committee has not yet scheduled deliberations on the bill, though the legislation is considered urgent because the Resolution Trust Corp., the quasi-governmental agency set up in 1989 to conduct the thrift rescue effort, has nearly exhausted the $80 billion it has been given to date.
The bill approved yesterday by the subcommittee would immediately pour into the agency $20 billion, which would be raised through off-budget Treasury Department borrowings.
But in a major departure from past practice, the remaining $60 billion that Bush administration officials have said is necessary to close the books on the nation's insolvent thrifts would be provided only if President Bush and Congress can agree on a plan to fund the effort without further Treasury borrowing.
The funding provision, offered by Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy 2d, D-Mass., and approved by the subcommittee last week, survived an eleventh-hour challenge yesterday by Rep. Chalmers Wylie of Ohio, the subcommittee's senior Republican.
Rep. Wylie, asserting the Kennedy plan violates a budget accord reached last year between Congress and President Bush, said the legislation will need bipartisan support to clear Congress and get signed into law. "If the Kennedy amendment remains in the bill, it will be tough sledding, and I think that would kill the bill," he said.
Under the budget agreement, new programs and program expansions are to be funded on a pay-as-you-go basis, requiring either tax increases or spending cuts in other areas. But the agreement specifically exempted expenditures necessary to make good on the government's pledge to back deposits at federally insured banks and thrifts.
Rep. Wylie also noted that House Speaker Thomas S. Foley, D-Wash., is opposed to the provision.
In response, Rep. Kennedy said that if Rep. Wylie were successful in stripping his amendment from the bill "it would send a signal that Congress doesn't have the will to deal with the problem" of the nation's staggering deficit. He added that retention of his amendment would merely require Congress to find $12 billion a year for the next five years, out of an annual budget of $1.1 trillion. "It just isn't that tough," he said.
A number of subcommittee Republicans said that they supported Rep. Kennedy's amendment in principle but that the approach could delay the clean-up effort and escalate costs.
"I take a back seat to no one in being a fiscal conservative," said Rep. Marge Roukeman, R-N.J. "I like to pay my bills. But that's not what we're talking about here." She said that if Congress and the Bush administration were unable to reach an agreement on where to get $60 billion, insolvent thrifts would be left open and floundering, increasing the government's ultimate costs.
In the end, Rep. Wylie's effort failed on an 18-16 vote.
The panel then went on to approve the bill, with the support of only one Republican, Rep. Thomas J. Ridge of Pennsylvania, who voted by proxy.