Bill to tax away bonuses draws Oklahoma GOP ire

Mar 20, 2009
In The News

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House voted Thursday to slap a 90 percent tax on the bonuses paid to employees of the American International Group and other companies that received at least $5 billion in federal bailout money. Most of the Oklahoma House members voted against the bill.

Responding to public outrage over the revelation that AIG employees had received $165 million in bonuses while the company was being propped up by taxpayers, the House approved the bill by a vote of 328-93.

Rep. Dan Boren, D-Muskogee, voted for the bill and said later that the conduct of the AIG company executives was "morally wrong.”

"Just like my constituents, I am absolutely outraged that this company would provide bonuses to employees when they have played a central role in costing the American taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars,” Boren said.

But the four House Republicans from Oklahoma voted against the bill and called it a cynical — and possibly unconstitutional — ploy by Democrats to cover up their own role in allowing the bonuses to go forward.

Rep. Tom Cole, R-Moore, said the bonuses were excessive and offensive, but that Democrats had protected them in a little-noticed provision in the stimulus bill passed last month. That provision essentially allowed bonuses to companies receiving bailout money if they had been part of contracts made before Feb. 11.

"The legislation brought to the floor today was simply part of a partisan charade — a charade designed to provide the administration and Democrats in Congress political cover,” Cole said.

Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, conceded to CNN this week that he had authored the provision in the stimulus bill that allowed the bonuses. He said he did so at the White House’s request. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., insisted Thursday that she didn’t know about it.

President Barack Obama said Thursday that the House vote "rightly reflects the outrage that so many feel over the lavish bonuses that AIG provided its employees at the expense of the taxpayers who have kept this failed company afloat.

"Now this legislation moves to the Senate, and I look forward to receiving a final product that will serve as a strong signal to the executives who run these firms that such compensation will not be tolerated.”

Of the five House members from Oklahoma, all but Rep. Frank Lucas voted last fall for the financial system bailout bill, which included the money used for AIG.

But Lucas, R-Cheyenne, joined 86 other Republicans voting against the tax on the bonuses on Thursday, saying that it would be unconstitutional to target a specific group of people and punish them with the tax code.

Rep. Mary Fallin, R-Oklahoma City, said the Treasury Department should instead block all future bailout money to AIG unless all of the bonus money is returned.

"Second, we should conduct an investigation into the legislative process that led to this disaster,” Fallin said. "The American people have a right to know why certain lawmakers and this administration blocked efforts to ban taxpayer-funded bonuses.”

Referring to the stimulus bill, Rep. John Sullivan, R-Tulsa, said, "This is what happens when Democrats craft a 1,100-page bill in the middle of the night that no one else is allowed to even read.”

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