Congressional Democrats need to stand up for themselves when they disagree with President Obama, Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) said on Thursday evening. She was reflecting on the demise of her executive compensation provision, a move that allowed AIG to pay its top executives $165 million in bonuses.
Snowe, who co-authored the amendment with Democrat Ron Wyden of Oregon, knows a thing or two about standing up to her party. She was one of three senators to break with the GOP to back Obama's stimulus and has routinely crossed party lines, drawing the ire of her fellow Republicans and former President Bush.
"Listen, I've been on the side where I've had to oppose the president who happened to be in my party," said Snowe. "That's the situation people are going to have to adapt to at times. They're going to have to resist those overtures when they know it's not right."
Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) said this week that he played a role in watering down the executive compensation limit provision in the stimulus package under pressure from the Treasury Department. Secretary Timothy Geithner has admitted he pushed for the loophole.
"In this instance, you really have to respond to your own, you know, intuition about what's right and what's wrong about a particular policy. And [the White House pressure] should have been resisted, given the circumstances that we find ourselves in," said Snowe.
Geithner has said that he only found out about the bonuses Tuesday a week ago, but video of a congressional hearing shows that he was asked about the payments as early as March 3rd. And Federal Reserve officials reportedly informed Treasury staff in a memo even earlier.
Snowe said that Treasury's insistence on dropping the executive compensation language shows that they're not in touch with the anger in the nation. "I think it just shows a sort of insular attitude [about] the reality of what they're doing here, which is doling out trillions of dollars to bail out private institutions that have imperiled the financial well being of this country and the financial well being of the average American who's in desperate straits," she said.
Snowe closely followed the conference negotiations to find out if her provision would make it in. She said she only found out late Friday, as the final package was being revealed, that it hadn't.
"It was a little bit confusing -- what was in, what was out. For a while I thought that it was in, then they were going to take parts of it. They went back and forth for quite awhile," she recalled.
When she found out the measure had been stripped, she worked to put it back in. "I had mentioned it to some people," she said, "one person in particular."
Remember who that was?
"Oh, yeah," she said, laughing. She declined to name the person she specifically lobbied to reinsert the provision.
Snowe's now pushing the Senate effort to tax bonuses for executives at nearly all bailed-out banks at a combined rate of close to 100 percent.
But she also has advice for Democrats going forward. "On the one hand, you're dealing with the president, who happens to be in your party; on the other hand, you know what's right and what's wrong," she said. "They're just going to have to reacquaint themselves with that circumstance and see when you have to say no."