WASHINGTON -- Jack Ryan, the Resolution Trust Corp.'s acting chief executive officer, is telling lawmakers that his agency may need only $5 billion of the $18.3 billion that the administration spent much of its first year fighting for.

The RTC will still spend about $10 billion on resolutions before closing shop, Mr. Ryan has said. But about half that sum will come from money provided before last year's legislation, leaving only an additional $5 billion to be funded from the 1993 RTC Completion Act.

Steven Katsansos, a spokesman for the RTC, confirmed the figures, but said the estimates are subject to change.

"We view that as an extremely soft number," he said.

If the forecast holds up, the remaining money may never be drawn from the Treasury. But under provisions of the 1993 funding bill, it could be funneled into the fledgling Savings Association Insurance Fund, provided certain conditions are met.

The surplus funds could help resolve a sticky political problem. The Bank Insurance Fund is expected to recapitalize within the next two years. Once that happens, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. is expected to lower bank premiums dramatically.

But thrifts are expected to continue paying higher premiums for years to come, creating a competitive disadvantage for the industry. Some thrift representatives are pressing Congress to consider merging the two insurance funds.

Already, there are murmurs on Capitol Hill about the possibility of using the leftover funds as a "sweetener" to encourage banks to support legislation merging SAIF with the bank fund, according to one government official.

Idea Being Talked Up

Banking industry representatives add that thrift lobbyists are beginning to talk up the idea of giving leftover RTC funds to a merged agency.

"In terms of a sweetener, when you meet with thrift officials these days, that is what they are offering," said Kenneth A. Guenther, executive vice president of the Independent Bankers Association of America.

The IBAA has opposed the idea of merging the funds, and Mr. Guenther said his group hasn't reacted to the new thrift industry overtures.

"That's an issue for our fall meetings," he said. "It's not an issue for now."

Any effort to divert leftover RTC funds to the savings industry fund is likely to run into stiff resistance on Capitol Hill. Rep. Jim Leach, R-Iowa, the ranking Republican on the House Banking Committee, fought strenuously last year against the administration's attempt to provide funding for SAIF.

Tough Conditions

In the end, Congress not only declined to provide specific funding for SAIF, but set tough conditions that would have to be met before surplus RTC monies could be diverted to the thrift fund. Most of these conditions were sponsored by Rep. Leach.

For example, the FDIC would have to certify that a premium increase would cause so many thrifts to fail and that the agency's additional outlays would exceed the incremental revenues.

Bert Ely, an Alexandria, Va.-based industry consultant, said the Leach test will be very difficult for the FDIC to meet.

"I don't see how the FDIC in all honesty can say that institutions will fail because of higher premiums," he said.

Instead, Mr. Ely said, the surplus RTC funds raise the question of "diverting some of that money to SAIF as part and parcel of the merger issue."

However, Edward L. Yingling, the chief lobbyist for the American Bankers Association, said he doubted Congress would entertain the idea of using taxpayer dollars to help out SAIF.

"Thrifts are a long ways from convincing Congress that their fund is in any danger," Mr. Yingling said.

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