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Obama to Wall Street: Those bonuses are 'shameful'

January 29, 2009 |  1:35 pm

President Obama was outraged by a story in the Wall Street Journal this morning that Wall Street  employees collected $18.4 billion in bonuses for 2008, the sixth-largest total on record. So when he met with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner in the Oval Office this afternoon, he called in reporters to let the Street now what he thought of that behavior.

"When I saw an article today indicating that Wall Street bankers had given themselves $20 billion worth of bonuses -- the same amount of bonuses as they gave themselves in 2004 -- at a time when most of these institutions were teetering on collapse and they are asking for taxpayers to help sustain them, and when taxpayers find themselves in the difficult position that if they don't provide help that the entire system could come down on top of our heads -- that is the height of irresponsibility," he said. "It is shameful."

One day after House Republicans stiffed the White House in their bloc vote against the $825-billion stimulus package, Obama said that with taxpayers bailing out industries, business executives should know better than to order up bonuses or buy corporate jets or flaunt the new infusion of funds.

Part of what we're going to need is for folks on Wall Street who are asking for help to show some restraint and show some discipline and show some sense of responsibility.  The American people understand that we've got a big hole that we've got to dig ourselves out of -- but they don't like the idea that people are digging a bigger hole even as they're being asked to fill it up.

Warning that he and Geithner will be hammering the point further with "folks on Wall Street," Obama said they need to "start acting in a more responsible fashion if we are to together get this economy rolling again.  There will be time for them to make profits, and there will be time for them to get bonuses -- now is not that time. "

Obama said Geithner already had to "pull back one institution that had gone forward with a multimillion-dollar jet plane purchase at the same time as they're receiving TARP money.  We shouldn't have to do that because they should know better.  And we will continue to send that message loud and clear."

-- Johanna Neuman

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