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Originally published Wednesday, March 26, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Election 2008

No government bailout, McCain says

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., on Tuesday called for mortgage lenders to help struggling homeowners stay in their homes but said government's...

McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON — Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., on Tuesday called for mortgage lenders to help struggling homeowners stay in their homes but said government's role should be temporary and limited.

McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, also called for increased transparency and accountability in the mortgage industry, among lenders and borrowers.

"It is not the duty of government to bail out and reward those who act irresponsibly, whether they are big banks or small borrowers," McCain said in a speech in Santa Ana, Calif. "Government assistance to the banking system should be based solely on preventing systemic risk that would endanger the entire financial system and the economy."

McCain, who later Tuesday picked up the endorsement of former first lady Nancy Reagan, said the Federal Reserve's bailout of Bear Stearns met his criteria. But he offered no specific federal proposals to aid homeowners facing foreclosure. He promised to evaluate proposals "based on their costs and benefits," but he didn't address any of the solutions percolating on Capitol Hill.

McCain advisers said the candidate frowns on legislation being prepared by Democrats that would have the government provide up to $400 billion in guarantees for mortgages that lenders agree to modify.

Regarding direct federal assistance to homeowners, McCain drew a sharp contrast with his Democratic rivals. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., on Monday proposed a $30 billion federal fund to help communities aid pressed homeowners. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., proposed a similar $10 billion fund.

McCain adviser Doug Holtz-Eakin rejected the type of foreclosure moratorium Clinton has pushed, saying it doesn't "address why someone is in foreclosure."

"As harsh as it may sound, that may be an appropriate outcome in some cases," he said.

Democratic candidates panned McCain's approach.

"He sounds remarkably like Herbert Hoover," Clinton said in Greensburg, Pa. "I don't think that's good economic policy. The government has a number of tools at its disposal."

Obama spokesman Bill Burton characterized McCain's response to the crisis as "just sit back and watch it happen."

McCain did call for steps to ensure that future borrowers know exactly what they're getting into and to require borrowers to "provide a responsible down payment" when they buy. He said the down-payment requirement for Federal Housing Administration home loans should be increased.

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Noting the crisis came about in part because "lenders ended up violating a basic rule of banking: Don't lend people money who can't pay it back," McCain suggested those same lenders need to play a leading role in ending it.

He cited as an example General Motors, which offered zero-percent financing after the Sept. 11 attacks to help the economy. He didn't suggest lenders should suspend mortgage interest payments but said "we need a similar response by the mortgage lenders."

Material from The Associated Press is included in this report.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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