There is no group more dangerous than one with some power, no scruples and leaders who think that they are really smart and that everyone else is really, really stupid. That description sadly fits not only the Wall Street swells whose credit default swaps toppled U.S. financial markets but also Congress.
Like you, I am outraged at the $165 million paid out in AIG bonuses. I'm furious at the very notion of a bailed-out-by-taxpayers corporation meting out bonuses to anyone "regardless of performance," according to The New York Times' DealBook. Most galling of all, recipients include geniuses from the department that tanked AIG with bad paper.
But as Americans keep discovering, bad can get worse. Witness the House bill that passed Thursday by a 328-93 vote to levy a 90 percent tax on bonuses for executives at corporations that got more than $5 billion in bailout bucks. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi proclaimed: "With this resolution, I think that we are making two important statements. One is that the administration should continue in its efforts to recoup, recover the money and prevent these bonuses from going forward. And the other is that we want our money back and we want our money back now for the taxpayers."
Two statements? What about: By about a 328-93 ratio, House members would vote to throw their mothers out of the lifeboat to save themselves.
Here's the short version of why that House vote is probably unconstitutional. As Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Calif., noted before his "nay" vote: "There is something called a bill of attainder. You can't punish a group because you don't like them. You can't have them treated more onerously than somebody else without a trial."
Now for the question as to whether there is any honor left in Washington. President Barack Obama and Congress had the opportunity to pass a measure before the AIG bonuses were paid to limit bonuses paid by corporations that have received federal bailout funds. Yet Congress failed to do so.
Au contraire , the Obama stimulus package included a measure to protect "any bonus payment required to be paid pursuant to a written employment contract executed on or before February 11, 2009."
Sen. Christopher Dodd -- the largest recipient of AIG executives' political contributions in the U.S. Senate, according to the Center for Responsive Politics -- told CNN Tuesday that he had no idea who inserted that language into the Obama stimulus bill. Then Wednesday, Dodd was forced to admit he himself had submitted that language -- at the request of the Obama Treasury Department.