Republicans Who Opposed Wall Street Salary Caps Last Month Now Condemning ‘Outrageous’ AIG Bonuses

As outrage mounts over the $165 million in executive bonuses paid to AIG staffers, many Republicans are trying to tap into the widespread public anger by striking uncharacteristically populist tones. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Senate Banking Commitee ranking member Richard Shelby (R-AL) have said the following in recent days:

MCCONNELL: “Well, it is an outrageous situation. I wrote Secretary Paulson back in October complaining about the way AIG had been doing its business. […] This is an outrage.” [ABC News, 3/15/09]

SHELBY: “We ought to explore everything that we can through the government to make sure that this money is not wasted. […] A lot of these people should be fired, not awarded bonuses. This is horrible. It’s outrageous.” [AP, 3/16/09]

However, when Congress debated limiting executive pay last month, these same key Republican lawmakers stood firm in opposing such caps. McConnell argued against the “temptation” to “dictate” business practices when it comes to salaries and bonuses:

MCCONNELL: “I really don’t want the government to take over these businesses and start telling them everything about what they can do. […] We have to resist the temptation to basically dictate to these businesses how to run every aspect of their operation.” [ABC News, 2/4/09]

Similarly, Shelby demanded a laissez-faire approach to executive compensation as Congress pressed Secretary Paulson for details of the bailout plan:

SHELBY: “It should be up to the board of directors of a private corporation to set the compensation of an executive; it shouldn’t be Congress’s role.” [Washington Post, 9/23/08]

Not all conservatives have backtracked from their previous positions on executive compensation. Rush Limbaugh, on his program yesterday, said, “I am all for the AIG bailouts, and I am all for the AIG bonuses. Well, I’m not for the bailouts, well, in a way I’m for the bailout because I’m for the bonuses.”


Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA), on the other hand, says he simply feels “outraged” but is not yet walking back what he said in September on opposing salary caps: “I’m not necessarily advocating going forward, that the federal government be able to set salaries across the board for any company.”