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While a dozen congressional committees grope publicly for ways to raise an estimated $85 billion to end the savings and loan crisis, the most important decisions will likely be made by a handful of players far from the television lights. Foremost, according to others involved in the process, are likely to be President Bush; Rep. Dan Rostenkowski (D) of Illinois, and Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D) of Texas.

Mr. Rostenkowski and Mr. Bentsen chair, respectively, the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee. These two men will be Capitol Hill's brokers with the Bush White House on who will pay for the cleanup of the ailing industry.

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``We'll hold our hearings, and other committees will hold theirs, but Ways and Means will grab it in the end,'' says Rep. Henry Gonzalez, (D) of Texas, who heads the House Banking Committee. That panel, along with the Senate Banking Committee, chaired by Sen. Donald Riegle, (D) of Michigan, has jurisdiction over the savings and loan industry.

Treasury Secretary Nicholas Brady is already Bush's point man in the dealings with Congress, requesting weekly meetings with the four committee chairmen, the senior Republicans on those panels, and House Speaker Jim Wright.

Mr. Brady's credibility was badly damaged in floating one of the major ingredients of the rescue package as a ``user fee'' on bank and S&L depositors instead of as higher federal insurance premiums on the institutions themselves.

One source close to the back-and-forth floating of ideas said Rostenkowski expects to bargain any compromise directly with Bush, who as a Texas congressman two decades ago served on the Ways and Means panel with Rostenkowski.

The Illinois Democrat, after meeting with Brady, Mr. Gonzalez, and Mr. Wright recently, described Brady's proposed 25-cent user fee on each $100 of deposit as ``flat as a pancake.''

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