WASHINGTON — The San Joaquin Valley's protracted foreclosure crisis is driving an ever-deeper wedge between Democratic leaders and Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced.
Escalating the iconoclastic rhetoric, Cardoza denounced President Barack Obama and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi alike for their alleged indifference to the Valley's economic woes. He timed his attack to counter Obama's newly unveiled housing plan.
"The president hasn't done a damn thing with regard to this crisis," Cardoza fumed in an interview Friday, "and today he's proposing ideas that would make it dramatically worse."
Pelosi is just as bad, Cardoza said.
Speaking shortly before he addressed a breakfast audience convened by a centrist think tank, Cardoza said Pelosi "gave lip service" to the idea of helping the San Joaquin Valley during House leadership meetings over the past two years, but he added that she never really followed through.
"She's done virtually nothing," Cardoza said.
Obama administration officials retort that they have poured billions of dollars into efforts to help homeowners and stricken communities. A Neighborhood Stabilization Program, for instance, provided millions of dollars to help Merced, Stanislaus, Fresno and other counties buy and fix up distressed properties.
Separately, the California Housing Finance Agency received nearly half a billion dollars to help individual homeowners. On Friday, the administration unveiled its latest, long-term proposal, to shrink the federal role in housing mortgages and dismantle the troubled mortgage entities known as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
"This is a plan for fundamental reform," Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said Friday.
Cardoza maintained that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are essential to rebuilding a solid housing market. The two entities, called government-sponsored enterprises, have long been able to fend off reform proposals on Capitol Hill, but their clout has diminished.
Cardoza has been voicing unhappiness with the two top Democrats for some time, though the arms-length distancing seems to have become more pronounced since November's election. In the wake of Republicans winning control of the House, Cardoza stepped down from his leadership-appointed slot on the influential House Rules Committee.
Cardoza was also one of 18 House Democrats last month not to vote for Pelosi as his party's leader. He said Friday that his unhappiness over her handling of housing was "one of the driving forces" behind his decision to shun her.
Cardoza reminded some 50 bankers and others gathered in a Washington restaurant by a group called Third Way that his 18th Congressional District has been identified as "ground zero" in the housing meltdown.
Merced County's average home prices plummeted 68 percent over the past several years, Cardoza noted. The cities of Stockton, Modesto and Merced have all ranked among the Top 10 for foreclosure rates nationwide.
"My region is suffering like no other," Cardoza told the audience. "Yet, none of the federal government's programs have delivered the slightest amount of relief that struggling homeowners have been promised."
Third Way, which organized the morning meeting at the well-known Charlie Palmer Steak restaurant, is a 5-year-old organization that bills itself as a champion of moderate policy ideas. Its staff includes Clinton administration veterans, and its trustees include an assortment of investment bankers and executives with firms such as Goldman Sachs.