The Bush plan to bail out the ailing thrift industry soaks consumers and taxpayers but spares the "crooks" who created the devastating financial crisis, according to consumer advocate Ralph Nader.

It was the latest shot in a growing battle over who should pay for the cleanup of hundreds of broke but federally insured savings and loan associations, most of them in the oil patch. The estimated price tag for the bailout is now at least $157 billion over 10 years.Nader's remarks came as his Congress Watch organization joined with other consumer groups in launching a nationwide, grassroots campaign to force Congress to change the Bush plan.

Nader said the cost of cleaning up the thrift crisis should fall on the S&L industry that created the mess, largely through mismanagement and fraud, in the early 1980s.

The cost also should be shared by other financial institutions, the wealthy and corporations that pay little in taxes but have been enriched by the 1980s business boom, he said.

Instead, the Bush plan "sends the bill for the cleanup up to the most innocent parties, depositors and small taxpayers," said Nader. And what few positive reforms the Bush plan provides for consumers are being attacked in Congress by the thrift industry, he added.

"Not content to stick the taxpayer with the cost of the bailout, industry lobbyists are now working day and night to weaken the consumer protections present in the Bush plan," Nader said.

The American people are finding out about the "who pays" issue, and they are angry, he said.

"We're already getting a lot (of freedback) from people around the country," Nader said at a news conference. "They're saying, `we're not going to pay for the crooks."'

Joining Nader were representatives of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.

The Bush plan calls for the closing or selling hundreds of thrifts and creation of a government corporation to issue $50 billion in bonds for the cleanup. More money would be raised from taxpayers, industry fees and the sale of repossessed property.

It also would restructure regulatory oversight, in part, by making the Federal Home Loan Bank Board part of the Treasury and the Federal Savings and Loan Insurance Corp. part of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., which regulates commercial banks.

Nader's campaign calls on citizens to mail members of Congress a "savings and loan bailout pledge," asking the lawmakers, among other things, to promise not to support a bailout that sends the bill to depositors and small taxpayers.

"The congressional strategy of President Bush and (Treasury Secretary) Nicholas Brady is to try to push through the saving and loan bailout program as fast as possible," Nader said, "before the public is aware, and rallies to turn the situation around."

Nader said he is counting on a few key lawmakers, including House Banking Committee Henry Gonzalez, D-Texas, and Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-Md., to halt any rubber stamping of the Bush plan.

Congress is expected to decide on the Bush proposal in April.

Brady, in a speech delivered in New York, defended the administration thrift plan as one that "addresses the current and long-term financial needs of the savings and loan industry."

However, he added in prepared remarks to the Greater New York Savings Bonds Committee, "the favorite Washington pastime of criticizing the president's plan without constructive alternatives has begun." To that, Brady quoted Gen. George S. Patton as saying: "A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week."