WASHINGTON — Millions of homeowners facing foreclosure got a bucket of ice water in the face from Sen. John McCain March 25. “The mess you are in is your own fault. Don’t expect any bailouts from me.” That was the GOP presidential nominee’s message, stripped of election-year rhetoric.

Speaking to small business owners in Los Angeles, an epicenter of the housing crisis, McCain said, “It is not the duty of government to bail out and reward those who act irresponsibly whether they are big banks or small borrowers.”

Many mortgage holders “work a second job, skipping a vacation, and managing their budget to make their payments on time,” he added.

This “suck-it-up” advice did not extend to the Fed’s $30 billion bailout of Bear Stearns just days earlier. Bear Stearns is one of Wall Street’s most ruthless predatory subprime lenders. Asked by a reporter if the Fed went “too far” in rescuing Bear Stearns, McCain replied that the bailout was necessary to prevent “systemic risk that would endanger the entire financial system and the economy.”

At the recent Take Back America conference, Robert Borosage, co-director of the Campaign for America’s Future, denounced the Bear Stearns bailout as an example of rewarding the thief while punishing his victims. “Under John McCain, as under Bush,” Borosage said, “the government will backstop the Wall Street players deemed ‘too big to fail’ while Main Street and its homeowners will be left to the mercies of the market.”

One posting on the AFL-CIO blog said McCain’s message to struggling homeowners is simply “Drop dead.”

Jeremy Funk, media director of Americans United for Change, said McCain’s “you’re on your own” approach is consistent with his “McBush” role of endorsing “virtually all the president’s biggest policy failures from endless war in Iraq, to privatizing Social Security, to giving more tax breaks to the rich who need them least.”

The AFL-CIO joined with ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) on the Senate steps March 11 to spotlight “the ‘do-nothing’ policies of Republican presidential nominee John McCain.”

Holding banners that read “Save families, stop foreclosures,” the crowd applauded demands that McCain join Sens. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Barack Obama in endorsing pending bills to help homeowners. These include S 2636, the Foreclosure Prevention Act of 2008, which grants bankruptcy judges authority to modify loan terms to help homeowners avoid foreclosure. There are also Sen. Dick Durbin’s (D-Ill.) “Helping Families Save their Homes in Bankruptcy Act” and Sen. Chris Dodd’s (D-Conn.) Home Ownership Preservation and Protection Act. These measures have been endorsed by an overwhelming majority of Democrats in the Senate and House, including Clinton and Obama. Clinton has announced a $30 billion program to assist struggling homeowners and Obama has a similar $10 billion program.

But Sen. McCain has not endorsed any of these proposals. In fact, President Bush has already announced he will veto any measure that provides real assistance to homeowners. The Cleveland Plain Dealer recently posted on its blog a message from the McCain campaign on the housing crisis, saying McCain “backs Bush administration anti-foreclosure initiatives.”

Sharon Reuss, media spokesperson for the Durham, N.C.-based Center for Responsible Lending, said her organization is working hard to promote passage of S 2636. “We do believe that a minor adjustment of the bankruptcy code could help save as many as 600,000 homes from foreclosure at no cost to tax payers,” she told the World.