Congressional leaders are offering cautious praise for President Bush's plan to bail out the savings and loan industry, but many are wary of his proposal to sock the taxpayers for about half the $90 billion initial cost.
Bush on Monday offered a complex financing scheme mixing tax dollars with higher insurance premiums paid by banks and S&Ls. He also called for an overhaul of the financial regulatory system aimed at preventing S&L problems from recurring, vowed to pursue wrongdoers in the industry and pledged to protect insured deposits. He recommended no direct fee on deposits."In all the time since creation of the deposit insurance, savers have not lost one dollar of insured deposits, and I am determined that they never will," the president said at a news conference.
Under the Bush plan, which must be approved by Congress, the government would sell $50 billion in 30-year bonds as needed over three years to finance the cost of closing or selling about 350 failed institutions. That's in addition to the $40 billion pledged last year by regulators to rescue and prop up 223 institutions.
Insurance premiums paid by financial institutions, combined with tax dollars, would pay the interest on the bonds and meet regulators' 1988 commitments. Money to pay off the principal on the bonds would come from the S&L industry.
Banking Committee Chairman Donald Riegle, D-Mich., said he and Sen. Jake Garn of Utah, the panel's ranking Republican, plan to introduce the administration's package as soon as it is submitted and schedule hearings in an effort to get a vote on the measure as soon as possible.
"I am determined to see us act quickly in the committee to match the speed of the administration," Riegle said at the beginning of the hearing. Both Riegle and Garn called on the other committee members to set aside partisan differences and work with dispatch to send a bill to the full Senate.
"This problem is serious enough that we don't have time to be partisan about it," Garn said. "I hope we can get together in the next few months to pass legislation."
Riegel conceded the taxpayer cost was "a substantial amount of money" and said he was concerned it would cut into other programs such as the fight against drugs and education.
Bush's budget director, Richard Darman, said the public would shoulder 54 percent of the burden over the 30-year life of the plan. He estimated the cost to taxpayers at $28.1 billion from 1989 through 1994. Over 10 years, the cost would be $39.9 billion.
The spending is structured to help the president meet his "no new taxes" pledge by minimizing the impact on the fiscal 1990 budget that Bush will present to Congress on Thursday.
Bush's plan also would increase the insurance premium paid by S&Ls from the current $2.08 per $1,000 of deposits to $2.30 from 1991 through 1994, dropping to $1.80 after that. Banks' premiums would rise from 83 cents now to $1.20 in 1990 to $1.50 after that.
Former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker said he was concerned that the deposit insurance premiums would be raised so high that they would put the institutions at a competitive disadvantage with other financial entities.
Administration officials who spoke after Bush's Monday news conference stressed that the money raised by the higher bank premiums would go into the banks' own insurance fund, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., and would not directly pay for S&L problems.
However, the money raised by the bank premiums would count as revenue on government balance sheets. Thus, the government would be able to spend several billions of taxpayer dollars a year without adding to the budget deficit.
Savings and loan executives expressed some misgivings about Bush's plan, but many said they aren't likely to pass along the costs of higher insurance premiums to customers.
The U.S. League of Savings Institutions, the industry's biggest lobbying group, was more cautious, saying it would neither endorse nor reject the plan.
Volcker said he disagreed with the administration's proposal to abolish the Federal Home Loan Bank Board. He said that instead of abolishing the three-member bank board, he would prefer leaving it as an independent regulatory agency but split off from its oversight of the S&L deposit insurance fund.