Savings and loan lobbyists are asking Congress to resist a "lynch-mob mentality" and ease the financial burdens that President Bush's rescue plan would impose on the industry.
Industry representatives, however, are getting little sympathy from either Senate Banking Committee members or from representatives of banking groups, who are testifying Wednesday before the committee.Bush would increase the deposit insurance premiums paid by savings and loans and force their owners to invest more of their own money, or capital, within two years.
Barney R. Beeksma, president of the U.S. League of Savings Institutions, the largest S&L trade group, told the committee on Tuesday that the Bush plan, by burdening healthy S&Ls, means "less mortgage money will be available and housing will be denied to millions of households."
He urged that Congress force commercial banks to share the cost of the S&L rescue by merging the bank and S&L insurance funds. Bush would have one agency administer separate insurance funds.
"We seek to make our contribution at a level that will not be so burdensome as to weaken our institutions and thus exacerbate further the current . . . crisis," Beeksma said.
"The lynch-mob mentality is rampant today, unjustly threatening the innocent majority (of S&Ls) along with the handful of scoundrels," he said.
Both Beeksma and Bud Koch, president of the National Council of Savings Institutions, asked senators to phase in the stricter capital standards over five years, instead of two, arguing that most institutions could meet the standard over time.
"The current timetable . . . is totally unrealistic," Koch said.
Mary-Liz Meany, a spokeswoman for the American Bankers Association, called the league's proposal to make commercial banks pay for S&L problems "a deadly prescription for a dangerous disease."
"They seem crazy with desperation," she said. "Their backs are against the wall and they're not thinking straight."
The bankers group supports the Bush plan.
Sen. John Heinz, R-Pa., said S&L groups, by asking for more time on the capital standards, "invite us . . . by ignoring the lessons of history, to relive it." Richard H. Bryan, D-Nev., characterized the industry's position as "let's have business as usual."
Sen. Richard Shelby, D-Ala., saying the league had in the past tried to play down S&Ls' poor condition, told the lobbyists, "You have no credibility here today."
"I'm sure you all have lots of friends here, but fewer than you used to," said Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas.
Bush last month proposed spending about $150 billion over 10 years - half of it from taxpayers - to close or sell insolvent S&Ls. He also would restructure the regulatory system by giving the Treasury Department control over the Federal Home Loan Bank Board. Critics have charged the industry with exerting too much influence over the S&L agency.
Sen. Jake Garn of Utah, the senior Republican on the committee, said industry influence on regulators could be reduced without turning over control to what he called "the gnomes of Treasury."