WASHINGTON — As lawmakers continued to react to constituents’ rage over the AIG bonuses with a proposal for a hefty tax, U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., on Thursday called for the removal of Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.
The U.S. House voted 328 to 93 essentially to recover some of the $165 million in bonus money paid to certain employees by approving a 90 percent tax on it.
President Barack Obama said he was looking forward to receiving a final version that will serve as a strong signal to firms that such compensation will not be tolerated.
But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said later Thursday his attempt to move the bill ran into a Republican objection.
"The American people deserve swift action to right this wrong, but unfortunately, the Republican objection prevents us from doing so," Reid said.
Cole helped kick off the back-and-forth by calling on Geithner to either step down or be removed by Obama.
Geithner was a major architect of the budget-busting stimulus plan that has saddled the country with more debt, Cole said.
"And now we find out that despite President Obama’s insistence that he only recently learned of the outrageous AIG bonus payments, they were actually authorized by his own treasury secretary."
"Simply put, it is clear that Secretary Geithner is in over his head, and if he doesn’t realize this fact and step down from his position, President Obama should remove him."
Other Oklahomans in Congress dipped into similar wells of anger, but when it came to voting on the Democrats’ legislation to recoup the bonus money with a tax, Cole and his fellow Republicans voted no.
"Rather than rewriting U.S. tax code and facing the unintended consequences, I support legislation that ensures AIG does not receive one more dime of taxpayer money and that every last dollar of this bonus money is returned to taxpayers," said Rep. John Sullivan, R-Okla.
"This misuse of taxpayer money is a prime example of why I voted against the Democrat stimulus bill that allowed for these AIG bonuses to happen behind closed doors."
Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., said levying a 90 percent tax on specified employees is not the way to fix the problem.
Lucas said the legislation is a political bailout for top Democrats for pushing massive federal spending through Congress without giving members time to read the legislation.
"In addition to setting bad precedence regarding tax policies in this country, this bill clearly violates the U.S. Constitution by targeting a specific group of people and punishing them,” he said.
Rep. Mary Fallin, R-Okla., also dismissed the Democratic legislation as a cynical, unconstitutional measure to intervene retroactively in a private-sector contract between employee and employer while attempting to levy a huge tax on the bonuses.
She promoted a House Republican plan that would instruct the U.S. Treasury to block all future funds to AIG unless 100 percent of the bonuses was returned and to conduct an investigation into the legislative process that led to the situation.
Rep. Dan Boren, Oklahoma’s only Democrat in Congress, voted for the bill.
Boren conceded the legislation that is being blamed for the situation was a mistake.
"But going forward," he said, "I don’t understand the rationale of not recouping this bonus money."
Citing his constituents’ anger, Boren said he would like to see some of the people responsible for causing the economic ills to be prosecuted.
"If we can tar and feather these people, I’d be for it," he said. "They are ruining people’s lives."
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