Federal regulators want the U.S. Treasury to guarantee billions of dollars of financial notes issued to savings and loan institutions, but members of Congress say taxpayers could be left with the tab.
House Banking Committee Chairman Fernand St Germain said the regulators "would be given, in effect, the federal government's Gold Credit Card" if Congress guaranteed promissory notes issued by the Federal Savings and Loan Insurance Corp.The notes, to be paid back in 10 years from future premiums received by the FSLIC, are used instead of cash to attract private investors to put their own capital into insolvent thrifts.
The FSLIC, the insurance arm of the Federal Home Loan Bank Board, has issued $10 billion in notes so far in the resolution of 97 problem thrifts, mostly through mergers or acquisitions, Bank Board Chairman M. Danny Wall said.
He said the agency would be hampered in cleaning up the rest of the crisis if investors became reluctant to accept the notes because of doubts about their worth.
The FSLIC, which insures deposits in savings and loan accounts, is funded by contributions from the thrift industry.
Wall defended the Bank Board's actions, saying it had saved $1.5 billion by finding new owners for troubled thrifts instead of closing them and paying off the depositors. This also has helped the healthy which must compete with the sick thrifts in the rates they pay depositors.
"We have dealt with 97 institutions which were bidding up the price of money for all thrifts," he told the committee.
But the FSLIC itself is technically insolvent, and accountants have questioned the worth of the notes without an explicit statement by Congress that they are backed by the full faith and credit of the Treasury.
Treasury Undersecretary George Gould told the committee the notes were a good idea but said the administration believes they already are backed by the Treasury and that action by Congress was unnecessary.
St Germain, D-R.I., said that before Congress could offer its backing, it would have to have a clearer picture of how the Bank Board proposed to solve the crisis.
"It is dangerous to give the Bank Board a blank check signed by the American taxpayer," Rep. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said.
St Germain said he also wanted more information on the Robert Bass Group's planned acquisition of Financial Corp. of America's thrift unit, American Savings and Loan Association.
"A lot of significant hurdles for this deal are yet to come, and finalizing the agreement may not be as easy as we had been led to believe," St Germain said.