New S&L scandal

August 14, 1992

Another in the long string of outrages in this nation's biggest financial scandal -- the collapse of the U.S. savings and loan industry -- was on view last month as members of Congress jockeyed for position to posture once more for political gain on this issue. And posturing seemed to be all these incumbents cared about: No one was remotely interested in the fact that this wheel-spinning is costing taxpayers $6 million a day.

If the grandstanding in the House Banking Committee continues through the end of the year, the delay could wind up soaking taxpayers for $1.4 billion. With such high stakes, when are these loquacious representatives going to shut up and starting acting to solve this problem?

President Bush is seeking another $42 billion for the continuing S&L cleanup, an amount Democrats don't want to appropriate. But they don't offer any alternatives, either. Instead, they are content to demagogue this issue as the taxpayers' IOU mounts day after day.

Instead of trying to make the Republican administration look bad for not cracking down hard enough on savings and loan crooks, Democrats ought to be zeroing in on the real crime -- the failure of Congress to solve this problem once and for all. That's what members of the House Banking Committee, including Baltimore's Rep. Kweisi Mfume, should be working on.

But they're not. Instead, they offer predictable political palaver in an election year. House incumbents are scared of supporting an S&L cleanup bill of this magnitude before November. They worry about being branded big-spenders and being tied to the savings and loan scandal -- however unfairly -- by opponents if they vote for a costly cleanup bill.

That's not leadership, that's political cowardice. The longer bankrupt S&Ls are allowed to stay in business, the more red ink accumulates for taxpayers. The quicker Washington allocates funds to shut these S&Ls and pay off depositors, the sooner this disgraceful affair will end. It may not bring cheers from constituents to say so, but those are the harsh economic realities. As the director of the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has said, "We agree with the administration that delay in closing failed thrifts is only adding costs to the final tab for this crisis."

This is one of those times when our leaders have to take unpopular steps. The president did so by seeking $42 billion more from Congress for the S&L cleanup. Now it is Congress' turn to show some courage, too.

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