It's not uncommon for politicians to draw partisan lines, but it is unusual for Democrats to spar among themselves - especially when the disagreement is over a Republican.
But that's the situation Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, finds himself in over his defending of Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah, whose Garn Institute of Finance has been criticized as a "hot tub of influence peddling."Owens defended Garn, saying the criticism leveled by the Wall Street Journal was ill-founded, but Utah Democratic Chairman Peter W. Billings chided Owens for being too charitable.
Owens' defense of Garn, the chairman said, doesn't mean that Democrats will let Garn have a free ride on the savings and loan bailout issue.
"I won't question Mr. Garn's personal integrity or the value of the Garn Institute of Finance, but I certainly question Sen. Garn's judgment and job performance," Billings said in a written statement Wednesday. "The fact remains that Sen. Garn bears major responsibility for the $160 billion thrift crisis.
"According to the Wall Street Journal, the federal S&L bailout will cost the average American family $4,000. And Jake Garn is partly to blame."
Garn declined comment on Billings' proclamation that the Senate Banking Committee didn't do its job when Garn was chairman.
"Garn's name is on the bill which deregulated the S&L industry in 1982. The Garn bill allowed land developers like Charles Keating to use savings and loans as `cash cows' - in effect borrowing depositors' money at 4 or 5 percent instead of paying the higher interest banks would charge," Billings wrote.
The Democrat said these federally insured deposits were then used "for wildly speculative investments with the FSLIC taking all the risk. When these riverboat gambles turned into busts, the savings and loans went belly-up. And the U.S. taypayer is left to pay the bill."
Billings further alleged that while the crisis was developing, former Garn aide M. Danny Wall, who was in charge of regulating the thrifts, was telling everyone that the problem was minor and that the industry could take care of itself.
"Sen. Garn personally intervened to get Mr. Wall his job as chairman of the Federal Home Loan Bank Board," Billings charged. "He also helped Mr. Wall avoid reconfirmation in his current position as chairman of the Office of Thrift Supervision when the Home Loan Bank Board was dissolved by the bailout legislation.
"Sen. Garn and Mr. Wall should be held accountable for their gross misjudgments in deregulating the savings and loan industry - misjudgments which will end up costing taxpayers $160 billion," Billings wrote.