With Republicans taking the lead, the House Judiciary Committee voted Wednesday to cut by half the increased civil penalties that President Bush wants to impose on fraudulent savings and loan operators and embezzlers.
The committee adopted an amendment by Rep. William J. Hughes, D-N.J., to reduce the proposed new civil penalties to $500,000 for each violation and to a maximum of $2.5 million against any one individual.As part of his $90 billion S&L bail-out package, Bush had sought to raise the civil penalties for defrauding banks, thrifts and other financial institutions backed by federal deposit insurance from the current maximum of $5,000 to $1 million for each violation.
Hughes said his amendment, which was backed by the American Bankers Association but opposed by the administration, was intended to make the civil penalties "remedial rather than punitive."
Opponents, however, said the effect will be to reduce the government's ability to recover billions of dollars in federal deposit insurance funds that might be lost in the future to insider loans, fraud and embezzlement - the major contributors to the current S&L crisis.
"The taxpayers are going to have to fork up $300 billion because of a bunch of high rollers," said Rep. Romano L. Mazzoli, D-Ky. He referred to the interest costs over the 30 years for the taxpayer share of Bush's bail-out plan.
"I don't think we should be worrying about remedializing them," Mazzoli said of fraudulent S&L operators. "We should worry about punishing them."
Although Bush got all he wanted and more from the Senate and the House Banking Committee in seeking to make S&L owners put more of their own money at risk, he faced new opposition to that as well from members of his own party.
After the House Judiciary Committee completes its action, the bill still has to go before the House Government Operations Committee and the House Rules Committee before reaching the House floor for action there - now anticipated the second week of June.