Congress apparently doesn't consider the savings and loan crisis a crisis. Despite the fact that S&L losses are growing at the rate of $33 million a day, neither the Senate nor the House has shown any sense of being in a hurry.
President Bush, in his proposed $90 billion bailout of the industry, asked on Feb. 9 that Congress act within 45 days on the rescue package.Thirty days have now passed and none of the appropriate congressional committees has even started writing a bill.This is not entirely the fault of Congress since Bush only outlined the S&L proposal when he delivered his speech on the issue. The details were not provided for another two weeks.
Yet the pace on the part of Congress still seems glacial. Both the House and Senate banking committees - which have the primary jurisdiction - are not scheduled to start writing legislation until they return April 3 from an Easter recess.
Even then, the process is expected to be tedious and slow, partly because of turf battles involving many other committees. Since the Bush package calls for $50 billion in tax funds - costing four to six times that amount over 30 years because the money will be borrowed in the form of bonds - at least a half dozen other committees also want jurisdiction and the chance to rewrite the bills.
When the federal government bailed out Chrysler Corp. in 1980, it took a full year to write the $1.5 billion legislation. And the Chrysler situation was far simpler than the far more costly S&L problem.
Unlike the Chrysler loan, which was promptly repaid ahead of time as soon as the company became profitable, there is no chance that the billions spent to resolve the S&L crisis will ever be regained.
One part of the Bush plan that needs to be reexamined is the proposal to form a new government corporation to sell the 30-year bonds. That would keep the bailout money from showing up in the deficit-ridden federal budget, although it would be tax money that would be involved.
Such creative bookkeeping is one of the reasons the federal budget deficit is far worse than it appears on the surface - and that's bad enough. Let's face facts and acknowledge debt for what it is, instead of hiding it "off budget."
In the meantime, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. has taken control of 118 failed savings and loans in 24 states, including some in Utah. The agency plans to take over another 100 in the next month.
When asked about a timetable for the S&L bailout, members of Congress avoid any specific promises. Some have indicated June as the month when the banking committees will have a bill, although August has also been mentioned. That is not saying anything about how long it will take other committees.
There's no excuse for such tardiness. Every day's delay makes solving the problem that much more difficult and expensive. If Congress delays long enough, the federal government could end up operating almost the entire S&L industry.
If the S&L situation is any example of the speed and decisiveness with which Congress approaches other major domestic problems, the country is in deep trouble.