Mortgage-Aid Tiff May Portend a New Wave of Class War

By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 21, 2009

Anger among homeowners about President Obama's foreclosure bailout plan boiled up to the White House yesterday as press secretary Robert Gibbs unleashed a barrage of criticism at a former trader whose rant against the plan this week made him a cable and Internet phenomenon.

Rick Santelli, a CNBC reporter who exploded in a tirade Thursday from the Chicago Board of Trade, has accused the president of crafting a housing bailout that is unfair to the millions of responsible mortgage holders. "Government is promoting bad behavior," Santelli said on his network.

He called for Obama to put his plan to an Internet referendum "to see if we really want to subsidize the losers' mortgages, or would we like to . . . reward people that can carry the water instead of drink the water."

"President Obama! Are you listening?" Santelli demanded.

Apparently someone in the White House was. In response, Gibbs attacked Santelli by name repeatedly at a news briefing, accusing him of not reading the president's housing plan and mocking the former derivatives trader as an ineffective spokesman for the little guy.

"I'm not entirely sure where Mr. Santelli lives or in what house he lives," Gibbs told reporters in a derisive tone. "Mr. Santelli has argued -- I think quite wrongly -- that this plan won't help everyone. This plan will help . . . drive down mortgage rates for millions of Americans."

Later, Gibbs added: "I would encourage him to read the president's plan and understand that it will help millions of people, many of whom he knows. I'd be more than happy to have him come here and read it. I'd be happy to buy him a cup of coffee, decaf."

The exchange underscores the potential for a new wave of class warfare as the president unveils economic plans that reward some people, often at the expense of others.

The stimulus plan that Obama pushed through Congress largely avoided that kind of fight. But the housing plan -- which targets up to 9 million homeowners for help -- quickly has become a focal point for homeowners who are paying their mortgages but still struggling financially. Gibbs's response also indicates that the White House is particularly sensitive to criticism that it is unconcerned with people who acted responsibly as the economy crashed.

In his response, Gibbs insisted that the plan will not reward irresponsible behavior. "It won't help somebody trying to flip a house. It won't bail out an investor looking to make a quick buck," Gibbs said. "It won't help speculators that were betting on a risky market. And it is not going to help a lender who knowingly made a bad loan."

He ended by holding up the president's housing plan -- an indication that his tirade against Santelli was planned in advance -- and encouraged Santelli to read it.

Santelli, who was hardly a household name 48 hours ago, appeared to be enjoying the attention.

"I think it's wonderful that he invited me to the White House," he said on CNBC. "I'm not really big on decaf, though. I think I prefer tea."

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