WASHINGTON - Deputy Treasury Secretary Frank Newman said Congress should not try to block thrifts from chartering commercial banks as a way of evading high deposit insurance premiums.
"It's awfully hard to get legislation to stop every creative idea that comes up," he said, following a speech to America's Community Bankers, the big thrift trade group.
"We really need to deal with the underlying problem instead."
Bank premiums are scheduled to drop to about 5 cents for each $100 of insured deposits by yearend, while thrift rates are expected to remain at their current average of 24 cents.
A number of large thrift companies, including H.F. Ahmanson and Great Western Financial Corp., have announced plans to seek a commercial bank charter. The thrifts expect to move deposits into their bank by offering higher rates to customers.
If enough thrifts charter banks to move funds out of the Savings Association Insurance Fund, the thrift insurer could be left with too small an assessment base to meet its obligations.
Mr. Newman did not shed any light Monday on how Treasury plans to deal with the looming disparity in bank and thrift insurance premiums and the competitive disadvantage savings institutions fear will result.
In a speech to the trade group's government affairs conference, the Treasury official emphasized that the Clinton Administration is deeply concerned about the situation, but added: "We're still very much thinking the issue through."
Mr. Newman recited the difficulties thrifts face, and then noted that he wasn't telling his audience anything they didn't already know.
"But now you know that I know it too," he said, drawing applause from several hundred thrift executives assembled for the conference.
Separately, Nicolas P. Retsinas told the group the Clinton Administration will in the next few weeks submit comprehensive legislation to alter the Federal Home Loan Bank system. Mr. Retsinas is the Dept. of Housing and Urban Development's representative to the Federal Housing Finance Board, which oversees the bank system.
The bill would restate the system's housing finance mission, require permanent, risk-based capital for the system, make membership voluntary for all members, change the system's obligation's for paying bonds used to pay part of the tab for the S&L crisis, and decentralize the system's governance, Mr. Retsinas said.
Mr. Newman also said the Home Loan Bank bill would be introduced sometime this spring.