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McCain proposes economic fixes during Minnesota visit

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By Don Davis

St. Paul Capitol Bureau

BLAINE, Minn. - John McCain wants a new federal agency to deal with the mortgage crisis, as well as opening the dealings of financial institutions to greater public scrutiny, he told thousands of supporters Friday gathered in a northern Twin Cities airport hangar.

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McCain called for formation of what he called the Mortgage and Financial Institutions Trust, an agency to be "an early intervention mechanism that will help financial institutions avoid bankruptcy and expensive bailouts." The trust would protect both the institutions and their customers, McCain said.

The GOP candidate's plan would be part of the federal Treasury Department. Financially troubled institutions would voluntarily seek the help of the trust, which would have the authority to take over troubled loans.

McCain and running mate Sarah Palin emphasized the current economic woes, as they and Democratic candidate Barack Obama have all week.

"The financial crisis we're living through today started with the corruption and manipulation of our home mortgage system," McCain said. "At the center of the problem were the lobbyists, politicians and bureaucrats who succeeded in persuading Congress and the administration to ignore the festering problems at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac," two major mortgage holders.

McCain said he warned about the upcoming mortgage crisis two years ago. "And now, as ever, the American taxpayers are left to pay the price for Washington's failure."

"Congress did nothing," McCain said. "The administration did nothing. Sen. Obama did nothing."

McCain, a 26-year Senate veteran, said Obama has not worked to change the system like he has.

"People like Sen. Obama have been too busy gaming the system and haven't ever done a thing to actually challenge the system," McCain said.

While McCain and Palin were talking about the economy in Blaine and Green Bay, Wis., Obama met with economic advisors to draw up a plan dealing with events of recent days.

Obama called for immediate action to create jobs, blaming the Bush administration for helping big companies but not workers.

"Swift and unprecedented action to shore up Wall Street must come alongside equally swift and serious efforts to help struggling families on Main Street, create new jobs, and grow our middle-class once more," Obama said.

The Democratic candidate said any economic plan must be "temporary and coupled with tough new oversight and regulations of our financial institutions."

Obama also said any American plan must be coordinated with other countries.

He said his economic team will not present its own plan until he sees the one coming from the administration, which is expected this weekend.

"It is critical at this point that the markets and the public have confidence that their work will be unimpeded by partisan wrangling, and that leaders in both parties work in concert to solve the problem at hand," Obama said.

One McCain proposal would open some financial firms' books. "Americans have a right to know when their jobs, pensions, IRAs, investments, and our whole economy are being put at risk by the recklessness of Wall Street. And under my reforms for the financial sector, that fundamental right will be protected."

To protect customers, McCain would push penalties for those who defraud Americans.

In a Miami speech, Obama called for "bolder and more decisive action" than the administration has taken.

"What we're looking at right now is to provide the Treasury (Department) and the Federal Reserve with as broad authority as necessary to stabilize markets and maintain credit," Obama said.

While he mostly avoided partisan criticism, Obama did blame Republican-led deregulation of the financial industry as the reason the country is in trouble today.

"Lobbyists got what they wanted; politicians in both parties looked the other way until it was too late," Obama said. "And it is the American people who have paid the price."

Palin began her Blaine speech talking a bit about hockey, then in an obvious effort to show her foreign policy credentials, turned to Iran.

"Iran should not be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons, period," she said.

Democrats criticize Palin for lacking any experience in foreign policy.

She talked about energy, pausing for thousands in the crowd to cheer: "Drill, baby, drill." Like other Republicans, she continued the call to increase off-shore oil drilling.

"As governor of Alaska, I have overseen a very large percentage of the U.S. production of production of gas and oil," she said.

"I know what works in this," she added, urging that there be more American energy sources used.

She said she and McCain will expand the use of alternative fuels, but did not mention ethanol or other Minnesota-based energy sources.

In introducing McCain, Palin said: "We need to take the maverick of the Senate and put him in the White House."

In an audience more heavily populated with woman than many GOP rallies, signs pointed to the addition of the first woman to a Republican ticket:

• "Go Sarah Cuda."

• "Read my lipstick."

• "Hockey moms for McCain."

Each candidate talked for 16 minutes.

McCain thanked the crowd, in the thousands.

"I know with this kind of enthusiasm, this kind of support, we will win the state of Minnesota," he said.

The theme of the week, the economy, brought a strong rebuff for Obama from the stage and from the audience. McCain said Obama puts himself first.

"No-bama," the crowd chanted.

"A vote for Barack Obama will leave this country at risk at one of the greatest challenges in this country since the Great Depression," McCain declared.

He said that he and Palin will end the attitude of "me first, country second." His campaign theme is "country first."

Republican leaders warmed up the crowd in a Blaine airport hangar before McCain and Palin arrived. They included Sen. Norm Coleman and U.S. Reps. Michele Bachmann and John Kline. Also speaking was Brian Davis, running for U.S. House in southern Minnesota.

University of Minnesota hockey coach, Don Lucia, said his native Grand Rapids, Minn., area normally is Democratic, but this year northern Minnesota "is putting on a power play for McCain and Palin."

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