The Senate Banking Committee gave swift approval yesterday to the Bush administration's request for thrift cleanup funds that would bring the expected tab for the coming fiscal year to $117 billion.
The amount sought is $17 billion higher than Congress was expecting, but Treasury officials have said that the money would be kept in a mandatory reserve fund and not be spent in 1991.
The funding request, which arrived on lawmakers' desks only Wednesday night, won quiet bipartisan support from committee members wary of fueling opposition to a necessary but enormously unpopular spending measure. It was approved unanimously on a voice vote. Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), who was not at the session and who faces an anti-incumbent electorate next month, sent a "no" vote by proxy to be used in the event of a roll-call vote.
In the House, where discomfort with the spending measure may be more widespread, Banking Committee leaders put off voting until next week.
The funding request for the Resolution Trust Corp. for 1991 includes $40 billion to cover losses from thrift failures and $17 billion to be used as reserves against borrowing. The RTC, which is supervising the cleanup, does not need congressional authorization to borrow working capital, and RTC officials have already estimated they will need $60 billion in 1991, which they hope to recover eventually through the sale of real estate, securities and other thrift assets.
In addition, the RTC will carry over $12 billion in borrowing authority from the 1990 fiscal year.
The funding request, which came in the form of a letter from Treasury Secretary Nicholas F. Brady, defused a standoff that had been forming since early summer between the administration and congressional banking committees. The administration sought a "permanent indefinite appropriation," which the committees claim was tantamount to a "blank check" meant to spare politically damaging trips to Congress for more thrift cleanup money each year.
"They want the money but don't want to come up and ask for it," said one congressional staffer earlier this week.
The funding request represents the administration's acknowledgment that the thrift cleanup will cost at least several times what it originally estimated last year.
The bill approved by the Senate Banking Committee also authorizes the Treasury to spend whatever money it needs in the next two years to "exercise options, or otherwise modify, renegotiate or restructure" contracts the government signed in the first phase of the thrift cleanup in 1988. Those agreements, made with investors who took over several hundred troubled thrifts, provide billions in government subsidies and tax breaks and have been widely criticized as overly generous.
Thrift regulators, notably Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Chairman L. William Seidman, have recommended spending an estimated $22 billion now to save up to $4 billion on the agreements during the decade. The Cabinet-level board that oversees the RTC has not yet made a recommendation on whether to revise the agreements.
Administration officials tried unsuccessfully to get S&L funding included in negotiations on a new federal budget. RTC spending has been kept separate from the budget reconciliation by congressional leaders who feared that including it could hamper chances of getting an agreement.