After clearing its first two hurdles relatively intact, President Bush's $90 billion plan to bail out and reform the savings and loan industry is gaining momentum in Congress.

The package survived its biggest challenge so far on Thursday when congressional Democrats capitulated to Bush's financing scheme, which is designed to keep the $50 billion taxpayer cost from showing up in the federal deficit.The House Banking Committee's financial institutions subcommittee, a legislative safehouse for the savings industry in the past, approved the overall plan after amending it to let S&L owners put up less money to stay in business than Bush had wanted.

A day earlier, the Senate Banking Committee approved the package after also weakening, but to a lesser degree, the capital standards that thrifts must meet in the future to qualify for federal deposit insurance.

The federal S&L insurance fund is now more than $25 billion in the hole because of loans that turned sour and, in many cases, fraudulent lending and accounting practices using government-insured deposits.

Another $50 billion in uncovered loan losses loom just over the horizon for 350 more insolvent thrift institutions that the government is keeping open now only because it doesn't have the money to close or merge them.

The full Senate plans to take up the bill Monday with the aim of passing it Wednesday before recessing for Passover. In the House, the bill now goes to the full Banking Committee, where Bush may win back some of the tougher capital and regulatory requirements he lost in the subcommittee.