The Reagan administration's parting shot on the savings and loan crisis - a recommendation to curtail deposit insurance - landed with a thud on Capitol Hill and at the president's own Treasury Department.
Secretary of the Treasury Nicholas F. Brady, who will remain in the administration of President-elect Bush, moved swiftly to disavow the proposal, which came Tuesday in a report to Congress by the White House Council of Economic Advisers.Brady is formulating the next administration's plan for the S&L industry, in which a post-Depression record of 205 institutions were closed last year.
Until now he's refused to release any details of the work in progress, but the White House suggestion prompted him to make a rare disclosure. In a statement released through Rep. Chalmers Wylie of Ohio, the ranking Republican on the committee, Brady denied emphatically the administration is even considering reducing the $100,000 limit on insured accounts.
News of the Reagan report reached the House Banking Committee on Tuesday, in the middle of a six-hour hearing on the S&L problem, and provoked an outcry.
"I think its wrong to even discuss limiting the insurance," said Rep. Kweisi Mfume, D-Md.
The Reagan report did not suggest how much the insurance limit should be reduced, nor did it say if the reduction should apply to existing deposits, or just to new deposits.
Most depositors would be unaffected, even by a sharp reduction. According to the U.S. League of Savings Institutions, a trade group, the average S&L account at the end of 1987 had $8,440.
Nevertheless, Congress is extraordinarily sensitive about anything that might spook depositors into withdrawing their money - all that really keeps insolvent S&Ls afloat is Congress' word that it will stand behind the deposits.
"I'm appalled at the timing of the administration. I think the public needs some reassurance," said Rep. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.
The Federal Savings and Loan Insurance Corp., which itself has been technically insolvent since 1986, simply does not have the cash to pay off depositors in failed institutions. Instead, it has been wiping out failed S&Ls' losses by issuing promissory notes, pledging income the fund expects to receive in the future.