WASHINGTON -- Congressional funding for the Resolution Trust Corp. will restart the stalled thrift cleanup but doesn't provide enough money for the Savings Association Insurance Fund to keep thrift premiums in line with those paid by commercial banks.

At 12:05 a.m. Tuesday the House voted 235 to 191 to appropriate $18.3 billion to finish the S&L cleanup. That's expected to be the final appropriation needed for the job.

The Senate approved the measure last Saturday by 54 to 45.

"It is terrific that we finally passed the kidney stone," said Richard F. Hohlt, a Washington-based financial consultant. "Now we can go on for the medical recovery."

One of the bill's chief opponents, Rep. Bill McCollum, R-Fla., said that at most the RTC needs $5 billion - not $18.3 billion. "It's just foolishness," he said. "That's a lot of money."

He worried that the RTC might use the extra money to close sick S&Ls that might otherwise recover.

$8 Billion for Thrift Fund

The RTC measure also authorized $8 billion in funding for the agency's successor, the FDIC-administered Savings Association Insurance Fund, but only after the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. certifies that the expenditure will save the government money in the long run.

Alexandria, Va., consultant Bert Ely said that as early as 1996, thrifts could pay 20 basis points per $100 more for deposit insurance than banks pay, because banks have capitalized the Bank Insurance Fund faster than thrifts have capitalized their fund.

The thrift industry had hoped the RTC funding bill would provide some money for the savings association fund to avert that potential imbalance.

"As a practical matter, there is no money for the SAIF," Mr. Ely said. "The $8 billion is there, but the strings on it will effectively prevent it from being utilized."

On the other hand, the new insurance fund will not face immediate costs of paying for thrifts that fail soon, because the RTC measure also extended from Sept. 30 of this year to at least Jan. 1, 1995, the agency's authority to take over failed thrifts.

"The $18.3 billion will be available to clean up whatever problems remain from the 1980s, so the SAIF starts out with a clean slate," Mr. Ely said.

The RTC is thrilled with the outcome. "It only goes to show that when you beg long enough and grovel and go to confession and light candles, that ultimately, logic prevails," said RTC spokesman Stephen J. Katsanos. With the funding, the agency can resume selling off the assets and deposits of the 64 failed thrifts with $50.5 billion in deposits that it holds in conservatorship.

"We will shortly advertise all the remaining conservatorships," Mr. Katsanos said.

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