thrift fund bailout for banks with thrift deposits, First Union and Amsouth Bank stood to pay an extra $12 million each. Not anymore. At the last minute, lawmakers decided that those two institutions deserve a little help from Uncle Sam, even though the deal will cost more than 50 smaller banks an extra $24 million. The handouts might come as a surprise to bankers who followed the banking committees' work on the thrift fund fix. Last week the panels agreed to cut by roughly $300 million the bill owed by the banks, nicknamed Oakars, that own thrift deposits. The original deal allowed more than 700 banks to cut their bill for the thrift bailout by 20%. However, lawmakers decided to deny the break if a bank's thrift deposits exceed 50% of its total deposits. That restriction would have been costly for First Union and Amsouth. Both own banks - First Union in Georgia and Amsouth in Florida - which have more thrift deposits than bank deposits. Rep. Bill McCollum, R-Fla., tried to weaken the restrictions during negotiations last week, but Senate Banking Committee Chairman Alfonse M. D'Amato refused. "We have just really pushed this," Sen. D'Amato said. But apparently there was a little more room to push. When committee staffers drafted the actual bill, the Oakar break was extended to banks with more than $5 billion in total deposits and thrift deposits of less than 75%. Of the Oakar banks that failed the 50% test, only First Union and Amsouth met the new exemption, according to sources. *** The Comptroller of the Currency is the "personal insurance Santa Claus" of big bankers, and insurers intend to play the Grinch. To make sure bankers don't find insurance business under their tree, a coalition of insurance businesses has mounted an aggressive ad campaign aimed at blocking attempts to lift restrictions on bank powers from pending legislation. Led by the Independent Insurance Agents of America, the coalition ran ads last week in Capitol Hill publications Roll Call and Congress Daily. The insurers are defending provisions that place a five-year moratorium on the Comptroller's ability to grant new insurance powers to banks. Bankers are so upset by the measure that many oppose a bill that would allow them to underwrite broad types of securities. The insurers berate bankers for rejecting underwriting powers solely because of the insurance restrictions, but save the real heat for the Comptroller. In one ad, they call the agency "ol' Saint Nick by constantly giving national banks powers Congress never intended them to have." Jeff Meyers, IIAA spokesman, said the ad campaign was aimed at making Congress aware of the insurance restrictions, just in case the measure comes to a vote soon. House Banking Committee Chairman Jim Leach has said he may lift the insurance limits from the bill repealing Glass-Steagall prohibitions on bank underwriting and attach it to separate legislation for a possible vote this year. *** Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and other government-sponsored enterprises took round one in a war of wills with Rep. Leach, but the battle may have just begun. Last week Rep. Leach said government-sponsored entities should not be allowed to expand their operations, because they "crowd out" private enterprise. These organizations receive an unfair advantage from government subsidies and state tax exemptions, he said. In a Nov. 9 letter to the Farm Credit Administration, Rep. Leach said Farm Credit banks have no business offering real estate brokerage and farm management. Last month he proposed shifting to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac the $12 billion tab faced by banks for the thrift fund bailout. Furious lobbying efforts by the two organizations quickly snuffed out his plan, however.

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