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Bush Vows to Protect S&L; Deposits : But Doesn’t Expect ‘Sweetness and Harmony’ on Fee Issue

United Press International

President Bush, holding his first news conference today, vowed to protect deposits in the troubled savings and loan industry, but sidestepped a proposal to tax depositors to raise the money to do so.

Dropping into the White House press room on only about 20 minutes notice, Bush responded to the raging controversy that erupted during his first week in office over an Administration proposal--called a tax by critics and a “premium” by the White House--to charge depositors a 25- to 30-cent fee per $100 in deposits to raise the estimated $100 billion needed to save the S&L; industry.

“I think it’s a little absurd to be commenting on a facet, a possible facet, of solving a problem when it hasn’t even come to me,” he said. “You’re talking about speculating on something that hasn’t even reached the desk of the President, even as an option.”

While acknowledging the furor that accompanied word of the plan, admitted at the White House to be a “trial balloon,” he said “that doesn’t mean any thinking along those lines should cease.”

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“Anything I do on savings and loans . . . I don’t expect it’s all going to be sweetness and harmony and light,” he added.

Bush’s comments, part of a 42-minute wide-ranging session with reporters, came amid criticism that he was abandoning his no-tax pledge in even floating the idea. But he reiterated that he was determined to deal with the industry’s crisis, and said he was prepared for the many battles that lie ahead.

“The savings and loans deposits are backed by the full faith and credit of the government and they are sound, they are good, dollar good . . . and nothing is going to change in that regard,” he said.

The informal news conference, the first of Bush’s presidency, came as a result of his decree that he would take no shouted questions from reporters and the promise instead of more assorted forums to meet with the media.

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His voice raspy from a cold, he pronounced his first week a good one, telling reporters, “There’s still a wonder to it all but no surprises.”

He said he was fully prepared for the honeymoon to end soon, and looked forward to battles not only on the savings and loan question but on his efforts to reduce the federal deficit, which go in first form to Congress on Feb. 9 when he addresses a joint session.

He also ruled out any intervention on his part over former President Reagan’s decision to increase congressional pay 50%.

“I do support it. A raise is overdue, there is no question about that,” he said.

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On the foreign policy front, Bush said he was committed to moving forward in all areas--"all of them"--but added that he could not predict where his first action would come. “It does take a little time. I’ve only been here a little less than a week.”

He said he was committed to moving the U.S.-Soviet relationship forward, but again took a cautious tone. “Let’s take our time, let’s take a look at where we stand,” he said.


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