Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah, told savings and loan regulators Wednesday that they have been unfairly criticized by a Congress and media ready to "kill the messenger."

"You have become the whipping boy of many in Congress and the media, receiving all the blame for all the problems of the thrift industry. I believe that is both unfair and wrong," Garn said at the beginning of hearings in the Senate Banking Committee, on which he is the ranking Republican.Among those regulators who Garn defended was Federal Home Loan Bank Board Chairman Danny Wall, a former Utahn who was once a Garn aide. Wall inherited the disastrous savings and loan situation when he became chairman two years ago.

Garn told him and other bank board members, "Every action you took at the end of last year was a painful reminder that this problem is both huge and ugly. Our reaction was to shoot the messenger.

"Never mind that you did not create this problem and that you took aggressive action to stop the worst abuses. You were there when we heard the bad news, and now you are paying the price."

Meanwhile, Senate Budget Committee Chairman Jim Sasser said President Bush's plan to rescue the thrift industry may cost taxpayers in 10 years nearly twice as much as estimated - $76.8 billion instead of $40 billion -

Sasser, D-Tenn., released a preliminary committee analysis Wednesday that he said used the Bush administration's economic assumptions but developed far different conclusions about the tax-funded portion of the savings and loan bailout.

In a memo to fellow Democrats on the committee, Sasser wrote that the draft analysis showed the "administration's own numbers suggest a direct taxpayer contribution of $76.8 billion rather than the publicly announced level of $40 billion."

The Bush 10-year plan does not include direct contributions from depositors, an idea rejected by many in Congress, but it relies on some federal tax money to cover expenses in reviving the industry wracked by fraud and insolvency.