Treasury Secretary Nicholas F. Brady said Wednesday that the savings and loan bailout agency will have to shut down operations by the first of March unless Congress appropriates more money for it.

He asked for an open-ended appropriation to continue the bailout."Immediate congressional action to provide additional . . . funds is essential," he said in testimony for the Senate Banking Committee. Without such action, the Resolution Trust Corp.'s "process will halt and the taxpayers costs will increase," he said.

The Bush administration expects to spend $80 billion to close or sell 225 insolvent S&Ls by September 30. Brady said $30 billion of that would be to cover the institutions' losses. The rest is to be borrowed short term and repaid as the government sells loans, real estate and other assets inherited from the failed thrifts.

Brady urged Congress to put an end to the stop-and-go pattern of the bailout program, which has been forced to slow its work as the administration seeks more money.

"We believe the most sensible and appropriate way for Congress to address the funding issue is to provide RTC with the permanent funding necessary to get the whole job done," he said. "Such funding would allow RTC to pursue its mandate aggressively and without costly interruption."

He estimated that congressional refusal to provide additional money before it adjourned in October has cost taxpayers $250 million to $300 million. An additional three-month delay would cost an additional $750 million to $850 million, he said.

In July, Brady told Congress the thrift rescue program enacted in 1989 would run out of money and asked for more. He suggested the administration preferred an open-ended appropriation. He did not specify the amount needed for this year until just weeks before Congress adjourned in October.

At the last minute, the House balked at approving the money.