February 11th, 2010
09:33 AM ET
4 years ago

CNN Fact Check: Obama's stance on Wall Street bonuses

(CNN) – Soon after taking office last January in the midst of the recession, President Barack Obama began railing against "shameful" bonuses paid to Wall Street "fat cats." As recently as last month he called bonuses "obscene." But this week, in an interview with Bloomberg BusinessWeek, the President says he doesn't "begrudge" two CEOs he knows who are getting bonuses of $17 million and $9 million. He calls it "part of the the free-market system."

Fact Check: Has President Obama changed his tone on bonuses?

– In January 2009 President Obama declared Wall Street bonuses the "height of irresponsibility." He said it was "shameful" that banks paid out $18.4 billion in bonuses at the same time they were being bailed out by U.S. taxpayers.

– In January 2010 the president referred to "obscene" Wall Street bonuses when he proposed a new tax on big banks to recoup taxpayer bailout money.

– In an oval office interview Tuesday, the president was asked what he thought about a $17 million bonus for JPMorganChase CEO Jamie Dimon and a $9 million bonus for Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein. Although he was "shocked" by the bonus amounts, the president told Bloomberg BusinessWeek, "I know both those guys; they are very savvy businessmen." He went on to say, "I, like most of the American people, don't begrudge people success or wealth. That is part of the free-market system."

– White House Deputy Communications Director Jen Psaki said, "The president has said countless times, as he did in the interview, that he doesn't 'begrudge' the success of Americans" and he "made clear that there are a number of steps that need to be taken to change the culture of Wall Street. A sentiment he has consistently expressed since long before he took office."

Bottom Line: Yes, the president has changed his tone.

Though the president says he's "shocked" over big bonuses, he's toning down the rhetoric toward those who accept them. His characterization of these two CEOs as "savvy businessmen" is a far cry from the "fat cat" references he made at the height of the financial crisis. It bears pointing out, however, that JPMorganChase and Goldman Sachs are among the banks that have paid back their federal bailout money, and President Obama has made clear distinctions in the past between companies that received bailout money and continued to pay big bonuses, and those that did not.


Filed under: President Obama • Wall Street
soundoff (17 Responses)
  1. munchmom

    Double-speak on this like on everything else......no wonder we can't trust this man!

    February 11, 2010 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  2. Seth

    Changing his tone doesn't fool anyone.

    His claim to fame will remain. Everyone knows the real Obama.

    He wants to spread the wealth around, like peanut butter on wheat bread, slice it into mini sandwiches and feed the masses.

    The pure joy for him is placing the shared pb on wheat directly into the mouths of the people that he is saving.

    Praise Obama... praise peanut butter.

    February 11, 2010 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  3. ObamasRecordDeficit

    Obama Lied and the Economy Died.

    February 11, 2010 11:58 am at 11:58 am |
  4. GI Joe

    They should pay higher taxes on ALL their salary and bonuses.

    February 11, 2010 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
  5. JS007

    While I was furious with bonuses awarded to executives at AIG and other failing banks last year I don't think that Lloyd Blankfein getting $17M is out of whack. The guy heads the best investment bank in the world (Goldman Sachs). I suspect however that his total compensation will be based mostly in stock options, and worth hundreds of millions – that is what is obscene. Of course, if people are mad about it there is an easy way to fix it – tax the super-rich at 80% or 90% of their inflated compensation. As long as the rest of the G20 agrees to do the same there will be no place for them to run.

    February 11, 2010 12:04 pm at 12:04 pm |
  6. Hud

    Imagine that...Now that he has a clue as to the facts, the idiot has changed his tune. Some of you other Libs out there may want to follow the lead of your messiah!!!

    February 11, 2010 12:07 pm at 12:07 pm |
  7. Fernando, Seattle, WA

    "Tone"? He changed his entire opinion on this issue. And there is video to support it....

    February 11, 2010 12:08 pm at 12:08 pm |
  8. Jack Fl

    If a bank has repaid it's debt to US tax payers, I don't think I have a right to comment on how they distribute profits. That should be up to the shareholders.

    February 11, 2010 12:14 pm at 12:14 pm |
  9. Honest AB

    That's why I say it's not about the American people, it's about who will pay them the most to keep their mouth SHUT!!!! I say we need to do a clean sweep thru Washington and get rid of all. There's nothing but crooks, hypocrisy, liars ,and money smugglers in Washington. And for those of you who think Sarah would be any different, think again. She is already stain with Washington filth. She is greedy for money just like the rest of them, and she is playing the game just as they are. So, please get your heads out of the ground and realize she is a foney just like the rest. She is in the bed with the lobbiest, banks, gas companies, and anybody who is willing to pay her. Sound like Washington to me.

    February 11, 2010 12:14 pm at 12:14 pm |
  10. Brian

    An interesting thing happens when you look up campaign contributions to Obama's campaign by both these 2 men individually and the respective companies they work for.

    Surely just an enormous coincidence...

    February 11, 2010 12:15 pm at 12:15 pm |
  11. all the news that's fit to omit

    See the problem is that the lying gutless fraud of a president NEEDS their money if he has any chance to be e-elected.

    My bad, you rahm-tards did not know of THE MILLIONS that wall street gave to barry and his buddies, oopsy, my bad.

    He says one thing THAT WAS "POPULIST" in front of a group AND THE MEDIA RAN WITH IT, now he does this flip-flop and almost NO coverage.

    That is how the media distorts the news for a certain party.

    I look forward to seeing him and Shelly walking out of the WH come 2013 hand in hand with their Good Reverend Wright "consoling" them.

    February 11, 2010 12:16 pm at 12:16 pm |
  12. marion/Alabama

    Wishy Washy,I believe that is the term? Of course what politican is not,but the President should at least stand for something on the Tax Payers side. Now the Jobs Bill,and what is on the last page? A way to get around pay as you go,which the Democrats Championed as passing only a week ago,now they want a way around paying for all the pork in the jobs bill. Talk about being a bunch of HYPROCRITES.

    February 11, 2010 12:26 pm at 12:26 pm |
  13. diridi

    what stance, he needs to stop bonuses to all these greedy monsters...ok...pass the needed health care reform with public option.....robbing the nation...and its poor...and needy...

    February 11, 2010 12:27 pm at 12:27 pm |
  14. Michael from Ventura

    I don't think you're listening close enough to the President....He's not changed his mind on the issue and "tone" is in the eye of the beholder. Ths story was just another attempt to stir a pot that's already boiling!

    February 11, 2010 12:30 pm at 12:30 pm |
  15. B

    You will never change the -Culture -at Wall Street because they run this country along with Corporations that ,own most of the leadership in government.

    February 11, 2010 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  16. Mike in MN

    Obama seems to be singing a somewhat different toon on several subjects since the Brown win in Mass and since it has become a fact that a majority of independents now do not approve of what he is doing and oppose his agenda.
    He also now has said that tax cuts on business capital gains are a good thing and will help create jobs. When McCain campaigned for them and Republicans wanted to make them a part of the stiumulus, Obama rejected them as more of the same Bush failed policies.
    Now we will see if Obama will take the adivice of the Democrat Senators who have asked him to drop cap and trade. We will see if he will now listen to the people and kill the health care bills in the House and Seanate and start over. The people want health care reform and want Congress to continue working on it be starting over with a new bill. We will see if he becomes serious about reducing the deficits and reworks his new budget that increased spending by 300 billion over last year and creates a 1.56 trillion 2010 deficit which is a 256 billion increase over the 2009 1.3 trillion deficit.
    We will see, but I have little hope.

    February 11, 2010 12:36 pm at 12:36 pm |
  17. Brian

    Who, might I ask, is going to run a billion dollar multi-national corporation for $250K per year? These troubled companies are the very firms that need the brightest leaders. If New Yorkers can live near $20 million per year third basemen or point guards ( and in the case of NY, a point guard on one of two incredibly lousy teams) what is the big deal about a banker or industrialist earning that kind of salary?

    The two companies in question actually paid back – or are paying back – the TARP money. Even so, a company that is trying to right itself needs a seasoned executive – not Joe the Plumber.

    February 11, 2010 12:36 pm at 12:36 pm |