Obama blasts 'shameful' Wall Street bonuses
WASHINGTON (AFP) — President Barack Obama furiously slammed Wall Street titans who took multi-billion dollar bonuses while taxpayers bailed out their industry as "shameful" and guilty of acute "irresponsibility."
Obama, anger rippling his usually calm countenance, said bosses of big finance firms must sacrifice along with other Americans, as the country tries to dig itself out of a deep economic hole.
The president's ire was sparked when he read a newspaper article detailing the 18.4 billion dollars in bonuses racked up by Wall Street firms last year, even as stock markets plunged and the economy slumped towards a recession.
"That is the height of irresponsibility. It is shameful, and part of what we are going to need is for the folks on Wall Street who are asking for help to show some restraint and show some discipline and show some sense of responsibility," Obama told reporters in the Oval Office.
"The American people understand that we have got a big hole we have got to dig ourselves out of but they don't like the idea that people are digging a bigger hole as they are being asked to fill it up."
Obama, speaking after meeting Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, said he would clearly spell out to Wall Street executives they have to act in a more responsible fashion.
There would be time for them to rake in profits and bonuses later in the economic cycle, he said. "But now is not that time."
"We're going to be having conversations as this process moves forward, directly with these folks on Wall Street," Obama said.
The president, who is piloting an 800 billion dollar plus economic bailout plan through Congress, pledged to make clear that the Wall Street fat cats must "start acting in a more responsible fashion, if we are to together get this economy rolling again."
He also brought up the case of Citibank, which has taken funds under a separate 700 billion dollar Wall Street bailout, and reportedly nixed plans to buy a 42 million dollar corporate jet after the Treasury Department complained.
"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," Obama said.
White House aides said the massive bonus figures, divulged in a report Wednesday by the New York state comptroller's office, undercut Obama's appeal for all Americans to share in a new spirit of responsibility.
Total bonuses in the securities industry fell from 32.9 billion dollars to 18.4 billion dollars in 2008, the largest percentage drop in more than three decades, Wednesday's report said.
"But the size of the bonus pool is still the sixth largest on record," the comptroller's office said.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs seized on that statistic to compare the largesse of Wall Street with the shrinking stock market-linked pension funds of many ordinary people.
"No American examining their retirement account thinks "it was the sixth best year for Wall Street" in terms of financial performance, Gibbs said.
"The president shares the American people's outrage on this."
This video is from CNN's Newsroom, broadcast Jan. 29, 2009.
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With wire reports.