Congress' delay in funding the Resolution Trust Corp. has cost taxpayers about $2 billion since last year, the agency argues.

That figure has outraged some taxpayer groups. "Congress is just being incredibly cowardly in not voting for this money," said Susannah Goodman, legislative advocate at Public Citizen. "They are losing big bucks by not funding the RTC. It is bad public policy not to find the RTC."

Without funding, the thrift cleanup agency must continue to operate failed savings and loans while losses mount because it cannot afford to pay off depositors and put sick S&Ls to sleep.

"It is like running a bankrupt business," an RTC spokeswoman said. The agency must pay operating and overhead costs for the S&Ls it still runs.

"Members [of Congress] are ducking their responsibility," by not passing the bill pending in the House, said Chris Lewis, director of banking and housing policy at the Consumer Federation of America.

The agency's spending authority ended on April Fools' Day, 1992. Since the RTC's creation in August 1989, Congress has authorized $105 billion in three installments to pay for the S&L cleanup.

The Clinton administration originally asked Congress to approve $28 billion for the RTC. In May, the Senate passed a bill that would give the agency $18.3 billion. But the House has refused to vote for RTC funding.

Seidman Sees Savings

Some experts, like L. William Seidman, who once headed the RTC, argue that the lack of funding has actually saved taxpayers a bundle. How? Borderline thrifts that would have been shut down by the Office of Thrift Supervision and given to the RTC for liquidation have been left open - and recovered.

The OTS denies that it ever stopped closing bad thrifts.

The reason House members are afraid to vote for the bill is that they think their voters will be angry. Members of Congress "don't want to go back to their constituents and explain why they voted for it. The public doesn't seem to understand that when you vote for RTC funding, you're voting to bail out depositors," said Ms. Goodman.

In early May, the RTC resumed its job of liquidating the thrifts by freeing $3 billion from reserve funds. The agency isn't sure how long the funds will last.

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