White House officials say that later today President Obama will have some tough words for bank executives.
“He's going to have a serious talk with the bankers," National Economic Council director Larry Summers told George Stephanopoulos on This Week yesterday. "The country did incredible things for the banking industry. Those things had to be done to save the economy, but no major bank would be intact, in a position to pay bonuses, if that extraordinary support had not been provided. The bankers need to recognize that. They need to recognize that they've got obligations to the country after all that's been done for them."
Summers said "President Obama is going to be talking with them about what they can do to support enhanced lending to customers across the country. We were there for them. And the banks need to do everything they can to be sure they're there for customers across this country.”
In the Spring, the president told bank execs that he was the only one standing between them and "the pitchforks."
But his stated irritation precedes even that message, of course.
In January, at a meeting with Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, the president said, "when I saw an article today indicating that Wall Street bankers had given themselves $20 billion worth of bonuses -- the same amount of bonuses as they gave themselves in 2004 -- at a time when most of these institutions were teetering on collapse and they are asking for taxpayers to help sustain them and when taxpayers find themselves in the difficult position that if they don't provide help that the entire system could come down on top of our heads, that is the height of irresponsibility. It is shameful."
Before that, in 2008, he told Barbara Walters that bank execs should forego their Christmas bonuses.
"I think they should," then-President-elect Obama said. "That's an example of taking responsibility. I think that if you are already worth tens of millions of dollars and you are having to lay off workers, the least you can do is say, 'I'm willing to make some sacrifice as well, because I recognize that there are people who are lot less well off, who are going through some pretty tough times.'"
Mr. Obama said "When people are pulling down hundred billion dollar, hundred million dollar bonuses on Wall Street and taking enormous risks with other people's money, that indicates a sense that you don't have any perspective on what's happening to ordinary Americans. And one of the things I hope my presidency helps to usher in is a, a return to an ethic of responsibility that if you're placed in a position of power, then you've got responsibilities to your workers."
Today, the two areas where President Obama will primarily encourage the bankers to be more active are to give more loans to small businesses and to allow more refinancing and restructuring of mortgages for homeowners.
The president's Homeowner and Stability Plan, unveiled in February, aimed to benefit between seven and nine million families by restructuring or refinancing mortgage to avoid foreclosure. A White House official tells ABC News that more than half million Americans signed up for the program, while financial lenders have moved to refinance or restructure only 30,000 mortgages. Bankers will be told they need to do much more to make this program work.
The president will also express irritation, officials say, with the lavish bonuses these executives are paying themselves this year.
"They're still puzzled why is it that people are mad at the banks," the president told 60 Minutes last night. "Well, let's see. You guys are drawing down $10, $20 million bonuses after America went through the worst economic year that it's gone through in-- in decades, and you guys caused the problem. And we've got ten percent unemployment. Why do you think people might be a little frustrated?"
The president said "there is no doubt about" the fact that the bonuses are because of the help of US taxpayers. "And what's most frustrating me right now is you've got these same banks who benefited from taxpayer assistance who are fighting tooth and nail with their lobbyists up on Capitol Hill fighting against financial regulatory reform."
The expected participants include Summers, Geithner, senior White House adviser Valerie Jarrett, chair of the Council of Economic Advisers Dr Christina Romer, and the following executives: Lloyd Blankfein, Chairman and CEO, Goldman Sachs; Ken Chenault, President and CEO, American Express; Richard Davis, Chairman, President, and CEO, US Bancorp; Jamie Dimon, Chairman and CEO, JP Morgan Chase; Richard Fairbank, Chairman and CEO, Capital One; Bob Kelly, Chairman and CEO, Bank of New York Mellon; Ken Lewis, President and CEO, Bank of America; Ron Logue, Chairman and CEO, State Street Bank; John Mack, Chairman and CEO, Morgan Stanley; Dick Parsons, Chairman, Citigroup; Jim Rohr, Chairman and CEO, PNC; and John Stumpf, President and CEO, Wells Fargo.
I guess we'll see if they're listening this time.