Overpaid Wall Street executives and employees are a rather easy target these days.
So it didn't take long for President Obama and Vice President Biden to respond today with outrage to the New York state comptroller's report that despite the financial meltdown and the federal bailout, bonuses totaled more than $18 billion last year.
The New York Times front-page story this morning said that was the sixth largest total in history, though it also noted that it was the largest drop on record, from about $33 billion in 2007.
"Outrageous" was Obama's reaction, according to spokesman Robert Gibbs.
Obama told reporters that the bonuses are not right when the firms were seeking help from taxpayers, who are tightening their own belts and were being warned that the financial system could not fail.
"That is the height of irresponsibility," the president said.
"It is shameful," Obama added.
"And 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."
Biden agreed, and went further. “It offends the sensibilities,” Biden said in an interview on CNBC. “I’d like to throw these guys in the brig. I do know what they are thinking, and they are thinking of the same old thing that got us here: Greed. They are thinking: ‘Take care of me.’ ”
Obama's full remarks after meeting with new Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner are below:
I just had a terrific conversation with my Secretary of the Treasury, the Vice President, as well as the rest of our economic team, about the steps that we need to move forward on -- not only on the economic recovery and reinvestment package, but also on making sure that we begin the process of regulating Wall Street so that we can improve the flow of credit, banks start lending again, so that businesses can reopen, and that we can create more jobs -- but also to make sure that we never find ourselves in the kind of crisis that we're in again, that we've seen over the last several months.
And Secretary Geithner is hard at work on this process. We expect that even as the reinvestment and recovery package moves forward -- as I said, that's only one leg of the stool, and that these other legs of the stool will be rolled out systematically in the coming weeks so that the American people will have a clear sense of a comprehensive strategy designed to put people back to work, reopen businesses and credit flowing again.
One point I want to make is that all of us are going to have responsibilities to get this economy moving again. And 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. It is shameful.
And 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.
And so we're going to be having conversations as this process moves forward directly with these folks on Wall Street to underscore that they have 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. And that's a message that I intend to send directly to them, I expect Secretary Geithner to send to them -- and Secretary 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.
Having said that, I am confident that with the recovery package moving through the House and through the Senate, with the excellent work that's already been done by Secretary Geithner in consultation with Larry Summers and Paul Volcker and other individuals, that we are going to be able to set up a regulatory framework that rights the ship and that gets us moving again. And I know the American people are eager to get moving again -- they want to work. They are serious about their responsibilities; I am, too, in this White House and I hope that the folks on Wall Street are going to be thinking in the same way.
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.