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That's it, Sen. McCain?

The GOP presidential contender's response to the credit crisis comes up short.

March 28, 2008

On opposite coasts this week, Democrats Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama and Republican John McCain laid out sharply contrasting responses to the credit crisis caused by the sub-prime mortgage meltdown. In Philadelphia and New York, respectively, Clinton and Obama advocated using subsidized loans and federal handouts to aid troubled borrowers and their communities. In Santa Ana, McCain called for voluntary measures by lenders and more study. It was as if he were so determined not to pander, he left any good ideas he might have had in his briefcase.

It's become something of a ritual for presidential candidates to show their mettle by delivering a message of tough love. http://htttp://tinyurl.com/2vsevlPerhaps that's what McCain was trying to do when he faced the Orange County Hispanic Small Business Roundtable. After all, California had almost 60,000 foreclosure filings in January, far more than any other state.

McCain's prescription, however, couldn't even be characterized as harsh medicine. Although he laid out a number of principles for avoiding future crises, his main idea for improving today's situation was to pressure leading mortgage lenders to "provide maximum support and help to their cash-strapped but creditworthy customers." The Bush administration is already applying that pressure, but even when lenders comply, they're hampered by the scale and complexity of the problem. McCain also called for a summit to discuss whether banks are exacerbating the credit crunch by writing down the value of housing-related assets on their books. He can't seriously think the financial system would be better off if the banks relied on unrealistic books and inflated collateral, can he?

Clinton and Obama, by contrast, threw their support behind proposals by Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) to offer government-backed refinancing to troubled borrowers if their lenders agree to write down the value of the loans. Clinton also proposed $30 billion in federal grants to help state and local governments convert repossessed properties into subsidized housing, provide credit counseling and improve safety in neighborhoods blighted by foreclosures, while Obama called for a $10-billion fund to provide direct aid to families who were victims of predatory lending. Their interventionist approach may go too far, aiding some irresponsible borrowers and preventing the housing market from finding its natural bottom. And Obama was wrong to equate financial deregulation with corruption and greed. But at least they didn't call -- yet -- for a direct bailout of every financially troubled borrower's mortgage debt.

The cascading effects of the sub-prime crisis have pushed this country to or even past the brink of a recession. They deserve as much attention as the Iraq war and homeland security. McCain should join Clinton and Obama in stepping up to the podium with detailed proposals for remedying the current credit malaise and let the campaign trail be the proving ground.

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