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The U.S. government is losing a half-billion dollars a month while the House "plays games" with the proposed savings and loan bailout, according to Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah.

Garn made the statement Wednesday after meeting with President Bush and other congressional leaders about the savings and loan crisis.But Thursday, as the House tackled the controversial legislation, Bush threatened to veto it unless Congress preserves his key reform requiring S&L owners to invest more of their own capital.

"Each of the amendments to the tough capital standards . . . would render this bill unacceptable to me," Bush said in a letter delivered to House Republican Leader Bob Michel of Illinois.

House Speaker Thomas Foley promised that by week's end the House would produce a strong S&L bill. But Garn predicted a final compromise bill with the Senate will not actually be passed and signed until the end of July.

On Thursday morning, however, Foley predicted the House would defeat Republican-sponsored amendments that would weaken proposed capital standards - thus honoring Bush's request.

However, Foley warned that unless Republicans support Bush, Democratic support might slip as well. "Then, the clear responsibility for the failure of the bill would be on the Republican side," he told reporters.

Bush's plan would cost an estimated $285 billion over 30 years. Taxpayers are projected to pay 55 percent of the total, or $157 billion. The General Accounting Office said that amounts to about $600 for every American.

The thrift industry is projected to pay the remaining $128 billion, or 45 percent of the package's total cost. But the cost is impossible to predict firmly, since it depends on interest rates and other variables.

In addition to covering the losses of federally insured desposits in failed thrifts, the legislation also is designed to toughen regulation and help halt the risky investments, poor management or greed by some thrift owners that many blame for much of the crisis.

On April 24, the Senate passed its version of the S&L bill, which was shepherded through by Garn, the ranking Republican on the Senate Banking Committee.

Garn said the House should have acted much sooner on its version because the cost of the bailout increases the longer action is delayed as more S&Ls fail or lose money due to customers closing accounts because they lack confidence in the system.

"It's irresponsible not to act sooner," he said. "We've been losing a half-billion dollars a month while the House plays games. . . . The House also killed my S&L recapitalization bill in 1986," which Garn contends would have avoided much of the current crisis.

Garn said Bush is also losing patience with House inaction and plans to send letters to each House member urging him or her to quickly vote for the S&L bailout.

And, for the first time, Bush is lobbying House members in person to keep them from watering down his proposal to reform the savings and loan industry.

During the meeting, Bush thumped his hand on the table and said, "In my view, it is time for the American public and our administration to say that enough is enough and to earnestly ask for the support of the Congress."

Garn noted that some are attacking Bush in the press for not doing more to speed the S&L legislation.

"But he initiated it. In a speech two weeks after he took office, he said he wanted S&L legislation passed within 45 days. We came close to that in the Senate."

Some of the "games" Garn referred to in the House are efforts by S&L lobbyists and some members - many of whom are Republicans abandoning Bush's plan - to soften reforms demanded by the Bush ad-ministration in exchange for the bailout.

Among those reforms is a requirement that S&Ls keep more actual capital on hand - and to no longer allow counting such intangibles as "supervisory good will" in such a total.

The Senate and House are adopting quite different rules in such areas, and lengthy conferences could be required to pound out a compromise.

Garn complained that some in the national press are trying to make the issue of tougher capital standards appear as a partisan issue between Democrats and Republicans.