In all the outrage over the bonuses paid to the American International Group executives who almost buried the company, the usually mild-mannered Senator Chuck Grassley went the furthest.
In a radio interview Monday, the Iowa Republican called on AIG executives to follow the Japanese approach toward accepting responsibility for the near collapse of the insurance giant, which has already cost taxpayers more than $170 billion in federal aid.
"I would suggest the first thing that would make me feel a little bit better toward them if they'd follow the Japanese example and come before the American people and take that deep bow and say, 'I'm sorry,' and then either do one of two things: resign or go commit suicide," Grassley said.
Today, Grassley is the one apologizing, sort of.
Asked about the suicide remark on MSNBC, he suggested that it was more of a rhetorical flourish. "You ought to be able to tell rhetoric when you hear it," he said.
Grassley said the point he was making is that he wants the AIG executives to show remorse and contrition for nearly bankrupting their company -- not to accept bonuses.
"I think taxpayers are entitled to that," he said.
Meanwhile, Senator Harry Reid, the top Democrat in the Senate, said today that he will pursue legislation to force the executives to pay back at least some of the $165 million in bonuses.
Congressional Democrats are crafting bills to tax up to 100 percent of bonuses awarded by companies rescued by taxpayer money.
Senator Richard Shelby, the top Republican on the Senate Banking Committee, criticized Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner for not blocking the bonuses, saying that Geithner either knew or should have known about the payments bonuses.
"I don't know if he should resign over this," Shelby said, according to the Associated Press. "He works for the president of the United States. But I can tell you, this is just another example of where he seems to be out of the loop.
President Obama joined the outrage on Monday, ordering Geithner to pursue every legal avenue to block the payments. The administration is talking about using a pending $30 billion federal loan to recoup or block the bonuses.
Representative Darrell Issa, a California Republican, said today that top White House officials knew about the bonuses ahead of time.
"So they were aware they were going to be paid and it wasn’t until they were paid and the press got wind of it, and obviously made a weekend of it, that they suddenly were outraged,” he said on Fox Business Network.
UPDATE: New York Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo said today that AIG paid retention bonuses last week of $1 million or more to 73 employees, including 11 who no longer work for the company. The biggest bonus was more than $6.4 million, and the top seven received more than $4 million each.
Contracts written last March guaranteed employees 100 percent of their 2007 bonus amounts for 2008, "despite obvious signs that 2008 performance would be disastrous in comparison to the year before," Cuomo said in a letter today to Representative Barney Frank, the Massachusetts Democrat who is chairman of the House Committee on Financial Services, the Associated Press reports.
Cuomo asked the panel to take up the issue at a hearing scheduled for Wednesday, when AIG's CEO, Edward Liddy, is scheduled to testify.
"AIG also claims that retention of individuals at Financial Products was vital to unwinding the subsidiary's business," Cuomo wrote. But AIG has been unwilling to provide their names, despite a subpoena, making it impossible to see if that's true, Cuomo said.
The AP says that Cuomo asserted that despite their contracts, Financial Products employees agreed to take 2009 salaries of $1 in exchange for receiving their retention bonus packages. He said the fact AIG could negotiate the terms of the payments "flies in the face of AIG's assertion" that it had no choice but to make the contractual bonus payments.
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.