Calling President Bush the "Joe Isuzu of the S&L industry," Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chairman Ronald H. Brown yesterday accused the Bush administration of deceiving the public about the magnitude of the savings and loan mess and bungling the cleanup.

"The Bush administration is paying off uninsured depositors and allowing already-bailed-out S&L executives to buy back their assets at a fraction of the cost," Brown charged in a speech to the Association of State Democratic Chairs in Portland, Ore. He called for a massive white-collar-crime initiative against S&L looters. "Just like the drug dealers, we should hit them hard and then harder. Seize their cars. Freeze their assets. Put them on allowances. Try them, convict them, get restitution and put them in jail."

Brown's scathing speech became an occasion for Republicans to make good on presidential press secretary Marlin Fitzwater's recent warning that two can play the partisan blame game. The evening before Brown spoke, Republican National Committee (RNC) operatives, tipped off about the subject of the speech, hand-delivered a counterattack to reporters covering the Portland meeting. In the two-page document, RNC chief of staff Mary Matalin listed 10 Democratic members of Congress who enjoyed "cozy political ties" with S&L operators that made them "blow the opportunity" to come up with a solution.

But the Democrats in Portland said they are determined to keep firing away at the issue, even if it means endangering some of their own. "If there is Democratic involvement, there are Democrats who will suffer," said DNC political director Paul Tully.