All the world's a stage, wrote Shakespeare, and in the world of Washington, the curtains have opened on the most elaborate farce of the year. Welcome, taxpayers, to the Kabuki Theater of AIG Outrage -- where D.C.'s histrionic enablers of taxpayer-funded corporate bailouts compete for Best Performance of Hypocritical Indignation.
Over the weekend, cloaked in their finest populist costumes, the Beltway's hair-sprayed and powdered politicians and White House aides took to the airwaves to inveigh against $165 million in employee retention payments made by the government-backed insurance giant. Those bennies were reportedly part of a larger $450 million round of bonuses. After subpoenaing AIG, New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo informed Congress that 73 employees in the very division responsible for the financial meltdown received bonuses of $1 million or more -- 11 of whom left the company after getting the cash to retain them.
The checks were mailed Friday, but the March 15 bonus deadline had been on the Capitol Hill radar screen since December -- when Maryland Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings released a letter to AIG CEO Edward Liddy that noted: "Without taxpayer intervention, AIG would have ceased to exist and, to be blunt, all of its employees would have lost their jobs. Against this background -- and given the massive layoffs occurring at other major financial entities, such as Citibank -- the American taxpayers have a right to know why senior executives at AIG, who are frankly lucky to still have jobs, need to receive additional bonus payments of any kind to retain them at AIG."
But it wasn't until last week that the hapless court jester of the Obama administration, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, scrambled to rein in the payments. Liddy basically told him to buzz off. Geithner, the primary architect of the original $85 billion AIG bailout last fall, "reluctantly" approved the bonuses anyway. And now his outraged boss has ordered him to scour every legal nook and cranny possible to get the money back.
Spare me President Obama's finger wag. He's "outraged"? Meh. Two weeks ago, Team Obama forked over another $30 billion for the basket-case company after it reported $61.7 billion in fourth-quarter losses. That's on top of the first $85 billion round and the second $38 billion round under Bush -- both of which Obama supported. (Obama, by the way, collected more than $101,000 in AIG campaign contributions.) Don't talk to me about how the Obama administration opposes rewarding failure.