The Bush administration yesterday dropped its opposition to creating an independent commission to study the collapse of the savings and loan industry, virtually assuring there will be a bipartisan federal inquiry into the most costly scandal in the nation's history.
Proposals are moving through both houses of Congress to create a savings and loan commission patterned after the Warren Commission that investigated the assassination of President John F. Kennedy or the Truman Commission that investigated profiteering by defense contractors during World War II.
Until now the White House had opposed the S&L commission, but Treasury Undersecretary John E. Robson hinted at a change in policy in an interview last week and the administration withdrew its objections in letters made public yesterday.
The Treasury, Justice Department and the Office of Management and Budget said they would not oppose the commission proposed in a bill sponsored by Sens. Christopher S. Bond (R-Mo.) and Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.).
The letters said the administration still has objections to a similar proposal included in the savings and loan crime bill approved Wednesday by the House with only four dissenting votes.
With the withdrawal of the White House objections, some sort of compromise between the two proposals is all but certain, congressional aides said yesterday.
The Bond-Dodd proposal calls for an eight-member commission to investigate and identify the causes of the scandal, which now is projected to cost taxpayers $300 billion.
The commission also would look into the conditions that led to fraud and abuse in the thrift industry and propose reforms in regulation, supervision, administration and federal laws to prevent another costly loss to the taxpayers.
Since the S&L commission proposals were made earlier this year, the administration has objected that the investigation might interfere with the Justice Department's criminal prosecutions of thrift industry wrongdoers.
In a letter to Bond and Dodd, Bruce Navarro, deputy assistant attorney general, said that "unlike the House bill, your proposal takes care to ensure that ongoing criminal investigations and prosecutions conducted by the Department are neither compromised nor impeded."
Bryce L. Harlow, assistant secretary of the Treasury for legislative affairs, said the Treasury Department had no objections to the Senate plan, which gives the commission six months to study the cause of the S&L debacle.
The commission would have two members appointed by the president, two by the Senate majority leader, two by the speaker of the House and one each by the Senate and House minority leaders.
The administration's letters did not spell out the objections to the similar proposal included in the S&L crime package that was shepherded through the House last week by Rep. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.).
The S&L commission plan in the House grew out of a proposal by Rep. Peter P. Smith (R-Vt.) for an independent counsel to investigate wrongdoing by government officials in the S&L scandal.
Smith's call for an independent counsel drew more than 100 co-sponsors within 48 hours and was endorsed by more than half the House by the time it was rolled into the commission plan.