WASHINGTON - Thrifts could find themselves paying twice as much as banks for deposit insurance in three or four years, according to a panel created by Congress to monitor the industry.

The report, by the Savings Association Insurance Fund Industry Advisory Committee, was delivered to lawmakers last week at a time in which the House leadership is trying to move legislation that would provide funding for the insurance fund and the Resolution Trust Corp.

There was a possibility that the House Rules Committee could take up the RTC legislation on Tuesday, paving the way for floor action on Wednesday.

However, the thrift cleanup legislation has been tentatively scheduled for a floor vote at least twice before, only to be postponed. Further delays are likely.

The report, with its warning of a bleak future for the savings and loan industry, could help thrifts make the argument for funding. Although House and Senate bills provide funding for the insurance fund, each attaches conditions that might be difficult to meet.

"It really cuts to the heart of the matter," said Robert Schmermund, a spokesman for the Savings and Community Bankers of America, the main thrift trade group.

"The industry has significant concerns about what this kind of competitive disadvantage could do.'

As previously reported, Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. officials told the advisory committee on July 1 that the Bank Insurance Fund would be recapitalized by 1998, and possibly as soon as 1996.

Recapitalization in 2012

Once the Bank Insurance Fund's reserves reach $1.25 for each $100 of insured deposits, bank premiums would drop, probably to about 11 cents for each $100 of deposits.

By contrast, the thrift fund will probably not be recapitalized until 2012 and it is "not unrealistic" to believe that a premium of 35 basis points - the FDIC's pessimistic scenario - will be needed.

The report said panel members "were staggered" by the realization that the bank fund was so near recapitalization and that the looming disparity in premium rates could be as high as 24 basis points.

"We do not believe the industry can survive under a disparity even approaching that level," the report argued.

"More important, we are certain that the public in general and the housing markets, which are largely dependent on thrift institutions for financing, have no conception of the severity of the crisis facing the SAIF and SAIF-insured institutions," the report added.

Industry observers said the report could help thrifts on capital hill.

"I hope it alerts the congressional leadership to the collision course that BIF and SAIF are headed toward," said Rick Hohlt, a financial industry consultant.

Still, it is hard to know how the report might affect votes. The Senate has completed action on a bill which sets conditions that must be met before the thrift fund can receive federal monies.

The House Banking Committee has adopted an even tougher bill, and it is unlikely that any member of Congress will try to weaken the measure.

It is possible that House and Senate negotiators could produce legislation more acceptable to thrifts, but it is more likely that they will try to find a middle ground between the two bills.

"There is a feeling that both bills are unworkable," said Alfred Pollard, a lobbyist for the Savings and Community Bankers.

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