The Bush administration is expected to tell Congress today it needs $77 billion to keep the savings and loan cleanup going this fiscal year.
Three top officials with responsibility for overseeing the cleanup -- Treasury Secretary Nicholas F. Brady, Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Jack Kemp -- are scheduled to appear on Capitol Hill to make the case for more funding before the Senate Banking Committee.
A similar funding request was rejected last fall after it proved unpopular with an election-minded Congress. Now, however, lawmakers may be forced to confront what many of them believe to be the publicly unpopular task of approving more funds because the cleanup till is expected to be empty by the end of February.
The issue arises at a time when Congress is facing two other potential taxpayer burdens -- the cost of the Persian Gulf War and reform of the shaky bank deposit insurance fund.
Congressional and administration sources said the Cabinet-level oversight board of the Resolution Trust Corp. -- the agency that oversees the cleanup -- is expected to ask for $30 billion to cover thrift losses for the current fiscal year and plans to use $47 billion in borrowed working capital, for which it does not need congressional approval. Working capital is supposed to be recovered eventually when the RTC sells thrift holdings.
The administration is expected to renew its request for open ended funding for the cleanup -- a "blank check" in the view of many congressional critics -- but many members of the banking committees have said they want to keep the RTC on a short leash. They have complained about the RTC's slow pace in selling off the real estate, securities and loans that make up thrift asset portfolios.
Legislators likely will raise more of those questions today with the members of the RTC's oversight board. The agency recently halted activity in a new, much-promoted program to sell bonds backed by junk bonds and mortgage-backed securities, which are otherwise hard to sell. RTC officials said they feared they could be held personally liable for investor claims and believe a technical amendment to the 1989 thrift cleanup law is needed.
Expected to draw fire is the oversight board's decision last week to scrap an agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to help identify environmentally sensitive land in its real estate holdings.
And officials may be taken to task over what the General Accounting Office described last week as nearly $1 million in excessive loan servicing costs paid out by the RTC during its sale of a Florida thrift last year.
Last fall, the administration proposed a range of funding options, including $60 billion in working capital and $40 billion in anticipated losses for the current fiscal year. The House Banking Committee grew balky when Brady refused to personally appear to ask for the money, however, and the request was killed in the waning hours of debate on the federal budget.
The RTC is seeking a smaller amount now in part because it was able to take advantage of a legislative loophole to use $17 billion in reserves against borrowings. Also, a lesser amount of money is needed because the RTC slowed the pace of thrift closings in the fiscal year's first quarter, fearing it would run out of funds.
The thrift cleanup law enacted in mid-1989 provided for $50 billion to cover losses, all of which is expected to be spent by the end of February. The administration revised its estimate of the cost of the cleanup last summer to between $90 billion and $130 billion in 1989 dollars. Officials said yesterday they expect the losses will reach the high end of that range.
By the end of 1990, 353 thrifts had been dissolved, and thrift officials say they plan to complete action on 580 by the end of fiscal 1991. They have estimated that about 1,060 ultimately could fail.