That’s what Wall Street bankers pulled down in bonuses over the past two months, according to a report from the New York State comptroller -- even as many of these institutions received billions in taxpayer dollars.
"That is the height of irresponsibility. It is shameful," President Obama said today, following a meeting with Vice President Joe Biden, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, and the rest of the economic team.
Read the President’s full remarks below.
The White House, Oval Office
January 29, 2009
THE PRESIDENT: Well, it's good to see you guys. 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.