President Barack Obama expressed confidence Saturday that lawmakers would approve his proposed tax on banks to recover bailout money, despite opposition from Republicans and the financial industry.
"Like clockwork, the banks and politicians who curry their favor are already trying to stop this fee from going into effect," he said, using his weekly radio and Internet addresses to promote the plan he announced this past week.
"The very same firms reaping billions of dollars in profits, and reportedly handing out more money in bonuses and compensation than ever before in history, are now pleading poverty. It's a sight to see."
If banks can afford to pay out all those bonuses, he said, then they can repay taxpayers, too.
"We're not going to let Wall Street take the money and run. We're going to pass this fee into law," he said.
Congress must approve the tax and that's not assured, given the immediate opposition from Republicans. Democrats also could lose their 60-vote majority in the Senate, with Democrat Martha Coakley in an unexpectedly close race against Republican Scott Brown in Massachusetts to fill the seat held for decades by the late Democrat Edward M. Kennedy.
Brown opposes Obama's bank tax. Obama planned to campaign in the state on Sunday.
The White House's decision to use the address to speak about the proposed tax instead of the U.S. response to the suffering and devastation caused by the earthquake in Haiti suggested one line of attack Obama would use against Brown on Sunday.
The proposed 0.15 percent tax would last at least 10 years and generate about $90 billion over the decade, according to administration estimates. It would apply to about 50 of the biggest banks, those with more than $50 billion in assets, and include many institutions that accepted no money from the $700 financial industry bailout.
Obama said that although the banks were facing a "crisis of their own creation," the "distasteful but necessary" taxpayer-funded bailout prevented an "even greater calamity for the country."
Most of the banks have returned the money they borrowed, and Obama said that was "good news."
"But as far as I'm concerned, it's not good enough," he said. "We want the taxpayers' money back, and we're going to collect every dime."
Six of the biggest U.S. banks are on track to pay $150 billion in total executive compensation for 2009, slightly less than the record $164 billion in 2007 before the financial crisis struck, according to the New York state comptroller's office.
Obama challenged those who say banks can't afford the tax without passing the costs on to shareholders and customers.
"That's hard to believe when there are reports that Wall Street is going to hand out more money in bonuses and compensation just this year than the cost of this fee over the next 10 years," he said. "If the big financial firms can afford massive bonuses, they can afford to pay back the American people."
On the Net:
Obama address: http://www.whitehouse.gov
American Bankers Association: http://www.aba.com
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