Action on any stalemated legislation to restructure financial institutions has been delayed until February at the earliest, but commercial banks and savings institutions have moved closer to resolving their differences, according to Sen. Jake Garn (R-Utah).
At a press conference yesterday, the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee announced he would defer action on the so-called regulators' bill, emergency legislation to assist troubled savings institutions.
"Current conditions do not make it necessary to consider the bill apart from his bill , which provides for long-term structural changes," Garn said. He added that the bill would apply to "a very few troubled financial institutions whose condition appears to be manageable under existing laws and economic conditions."
This was a reference to New York savings banks, which have been the hardest hit in the country. Garn said he had the support of New York state Superintendent of Banks Muriel Siebert on his assessment of the situation.
A spokesman for the National Association of Mutual Savings Banks explained that Siebert had supported a provision in the regulators' bill that would have allowed the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. to inject cash into ailing savings banks without merging them out of existence. However, when the Treasury disapproved this provision, the spokesman said Siebert felt the gutted bill was not worthwhile because it would have allowed banks and others from out of state to acquire failing New York savings banks.
House Banking Committee Chairman Fernand St Germain (D-R.I.), who engineered passage of the regulators' bill through the House, expressed "grave disappointment" yesterday at Garn's decision.
St Germain noted that federal regulators had been looking to Congress for guidance on merger procedure. "We now open the door for them to make tortured interpretations of existing authority. This could lead to a hodge-podge restructuring far beyond the needs of the current or potential emergency and without proper consideration by Congress."
An aide said the reference was to interstate acquisitions put together by regulators and thus de facto interstate banking before Congress has voted to approve it.
William M. Isaac, FDIC chairman, said "prompt passage of the bill would have made life easier." He continued to urge passage at the earliest possible date.
Garn also announced what he termed "significant consensus" between the commercial banks and the savings institutions on resolving their differences over powers. However, industry observers said privately they felt the two sides were still some distance apart.
The U.S. League of Savings Associations--the savings and loan trade association--proposed in a letter to Garn to phase out the differential over a four-year period in exchange for a phase-in of commercial lending and deposit powers. The differential is the quarter percentage point more interest that thrift institutions are allowed by government to pay on deposits because they finance housing.
The differential is due to expire anyway in 1986. However, the Depository Institutions Deregulation Committee, composed of federal regulators, has already removed the differential from certain categories of deposits, such as money market and small saver certificates and Individual Retirement Accounts.
The league has sued to prevent the DIDC from removing the differential before 1986. The league now proposes to prevent the DIDC by law from removing the differential as it wishes and instead confine it to phasing it out on a scheduled basis over four years.
In exchange for the differential phase-out, the league asks that 20 percent of S&Ls' assets be used in commercial lending in 1982 and so on up to 60 percent in 1986. The league claims it has made a "very significant movement" toward compromise. The American Bankers Association, its counterpart, does not share that view.
Gerald M. Lowrie, ABA's director of government relations, yesterday termed the league's proposals "underwhelming." He further called on Garn to define a middle ground between the banks' and thrifts' positions, something Garn repeated yesterday he would not do. The ABA is not scheduled to make further proposals until after its February leadership conference.
The ABA present position is that the bankers will support additional powers for thrifts, such as overdraft loans for transaction accounts and unrestricted investment in education loans in exchange for a repeal of the differential.