WASHINGTON (CNN) - President Barack Obama said Monday he will attempt to block bonuses to executives at ailing insurance giant AIG, payments hedescribed as an "outrage."
Watch: Obama on AIG bonuses
"This is a corporation that finds itself in financial distress due to recklessness and greed," Obama told politicians and reporters in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, where he and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner were unveiling a package to aid the nation's small businesses.
The president expressed dismay and anger over the bonuses to executives at AIG, which has received $173 billion in U.S. government bailouts over the past six months.
"Under these circumstances, it's hard to understand how derivative traders at AIG warranted any bonuses, much less $165 million in extra pay. I mean, how do they justify this outrage to the taxpayers who are keeping the company afloat?"
Obama said he has asked Geithner to "pursue every legal avenue to block these bonuses and make the American taxpayers whole."
Obama spared AIG's new CEO, Edward Liddy, from criticism, saying he got the job "after the contracts that led to these bonuses were agreed to last year."
But he said the impropriety of the bonuses goes beyond economics. "It's about our fundamental values," he said.
"All across the country, there are people who work hard and meet their responsibilities every day, without the benefit of government bailouts or multimillion-dollar bonuses. You've got a bunch of small-business people here who are struggling just to keep their credit line open.
"And all they ask is that everyone, from Main Street to Wall Street to Washington, play by the same rules. That is an ethic we have to demand." Obama said he would work with Congress to change the laws so that such a situation cannot recur.
Then, coughing, he added in jest, "I'm choked up with anger here."