Wall Street feels wrath of Obama


Published: Friday, January 30, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 29, 2009 at 11:12 p.m.

WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama issued a withering critique Thursday of Wall Street corporate behavior, calling it "the height of irresponsibility" for employees to be paid more than $18 billion in bonuses last year while their crumbling financial sector received a bailout from taxpayers.

"It is shameful," Obama said from the Oval Office. "And part of what we're 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."

The president's comments, made with new Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner at his side, came in swift response to a report that employees of the New York financial world garnered an estimated $18.4 billion in bonuses last year. The figure, from the New York state comptroller, drew prominent news coverage

Lashing out at Wall Street bonuses, Obama said the public dislikes the idea of helping the financial sector dig out of a hole, only to see it get bigger because of lavish spending. The comptroller's report found such bonuses were down 44 percent, but at about the same level they were during the boom time of 2004.

Vice President Joe Biden also chimed in, saying the level of bonuses "offends the sensibilities."

"I mean, I'd like to throw these guys in the brig," Biden said in an interview with CNBC.

Obama said he and Geithner will speak directly to Wall Street leaders about the bonuses, which threaten to undermine public support for more government intervention as the economy keeps reeling.

The House just approved an economic stimulus plan that would cost taxpayers more than $800 billion; the Senate is considering its own version.

Separately, Congress passed a $700 billion plan last year to shore up the financial sector, one that drew howls of criticism about a lack of transparency.

Said Obama about Wall Street leaders: "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 has already had to step in to stop one company from taking delivery of a new corporate jet it planned to buy even after receiving billions of dollars of support from the government. That bank, Citigroup, canceled the deal earlier this week.

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