- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 17, 2009

WASHINGTON (AP) - The top Republican on the Senate Banking Committee is questioning whether Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner responded appropriately to American Insurance Group’s payment of millions in executive bonuses.

Sen. Richard Shelby says that $165 million in bonuses have already been paid out by AIG and asks, “Will we ever get the money back.”

The Alabama Republican, interviewed Tuesday on CBS’s “The Early Show,” stopped short of calling for Geithner’s resignation. But he did say: “What I want to ask, where was the secretary of the Treasury? Where was Treasury before this money was paid out? Why did not Treasury step in and let the American people know, just try to block it.”

The White House says it’s looking at restrictions on some $30 billion in taxpayers’ money approved to help American International Group as the administration tries to reclaim or block millions of dollars in bonuses the struggling company awarded executives.

President Barack Obama and his top aides expressed outrage at reports that AIG went ahead with $165 million in bonuses even though the company received more than $170 billion in federal rescue money. Obama directed Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner to see whether there was any way to retrieve or stop the bonus money _ a move designed as much for public relations as for public policy.

“I mean, how do they justify this outrage to the taxpayers who are keeping the company afloat?” Obama said Monday in announcing a plan to help small businesses.

The financial bailout program remains politically unpopular and has been a drag on Obama’s new presidency, even though the plan began under his predecessor, President George W. Bush. The White House is aware of the nation’s bailout fatigue; hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars have gone to prop up financial institutions that made poor decisions, while many others who have done no wrong have paid the price.

News that AIG still needs billions in taxpayer dollars to prevent a collapse did little to build public confidence, Obama aides acknowledged. Seeking to turn the public tide, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs aggressively criticized AIG and said administration officials were working to put strict limits on the next $30 billion installment bound for the company.

“Treasury has instruments that can address the excessive retention bonuses, and add provisions to ensure that taxpayers are made whole,” Gibbs said.

The AIG news overshadowed what Obama’s aides had hoped to spend the first part of the week discussing: billions of dollars to help the nation’s small businesses in the hopes of getting credit flowing again. Obama heaped praise on the little guys of American industry, often overshadowed in the blitz of government bailouts.

Obama’s latest plan allows the government to spend up to $15 billion to buy the small-business loans that are now choking community banks and lenders. That, in turn, could allow those banks to start lending money again to small companies to invest, pay bills and stay afloat.

“You deserve a chance. America needs you to have a chance,” Obama said in an appeal to all those who run small businesses or hope to one day.

On Capitol Hill, House Republican leader John Boehner was unmoved. He called Obama’s White House event “simply an attempt to provide political cover for the job-killing burden the president’s budget would place on our nation’s small businesses.” The House Republican whip, Eric Cantor of Virginia, said Obama’s plan was welcome, but he predicted it would affect only a small portion of the loan market for small businesses, leaving others and their workers “in the cold.”

Two months into office, Obama’s job approval rating is 61 percent, according to Gallup polling. That number has been relatively stable so far this month but has dropped from the 68 percent when the president took office. The major factor has been a decline in support among Republicans, from 41 percent to 26 percent.

A separate poll out Monday by the Pew Research Center put Obama’s approval at 59 percent, slipping from 64 percent last month. The Pew poll found that a growing number of Americans see him as listening more to the liberals than to the moderates in the Democratic Party.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide