Obama, Dodd clash on executive pay

President Obama and the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee are at odds on how to rein in the salaries of top executives whose companies are being propped up by the federal government.

A senior presidential adviser indicated on Sunday that Obama wants Congress to change the executive compensation provisions passed in the economic stimulus legislation on Friday.
            
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Details of the limits on pay to executives of bailed-out banks didn’t emerge widely until after the bill passed. Administration officials worry the strict compensation limits will impede lending because smaller banks won’t want to take the bailout money, or won’t keep it for long.

The provision was authored by Senate Banking Chairman Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.), who ran for president in 2008. Obama’s senior adviser David Axelrod said administration officials plan to talk to Dodd about changes.

“We're going to work with [the Senate] to come up with a good approach,” Axelrod said on "Fox News Sunday." On NBC’s "Meet the Press" later, he added, “We’re going to have a dialogue with Chairman Dodd.”

The Obama plan, announced before the stimulus passed, would cap the entire compensation at $500,000 — with anything above that coming from restricted stock. The language that Dodd put in the stimulus bill goes further by limiting executive bonuses on banks that receive funds from the government's $700 billion financial rescue package.

Administration officials fear that the congressional provision will still allow multi-million dollar paychecks, as long as they aren’t called bonuses, because it has no limit on base pay.

But most of the administration's concern stems from the Dodd's move to trump Obama's compensation provisions by seeking more aggressive restrictions.

Dodd is not backing down. In an interview with the AP, Dodd said his provisions are needed, especially if Obama asks Congress for more money to bolster the financial sector.

"It will never happen as long as the public perceives that there are people getting rich," Dodd told AP. "Save their pay or save capitalism."
Despite the White House misgivings about the compensation limits, they appear to be getting something much of the rest of the bill lacks -- bipartisan support.

Republican Sens. Richard Shelby of Alabama and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina both voiced support for the provision during Sunday morning television appearances.

“We should protect the taxpayers here. And I believe this provision in the stimulus bill is going in the right direction, as far as protecting the taxpayers,” Shelby said on CBS’s Face the Nation.

“The reason that we're doing things about CEOs ... is because people were burned on TARP I,” Graham said on “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” on ABC.

Enjoying the breach in Democratic unity on “This Week,” Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.) noted the disagreement between fellow guest Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Obama.

“I look forward to the debate between Chuck Schumer and President Obama on this issue,” King quipped.

Schumer made it plain that he and other Democratic senators did not share the concerns of the administration about banks not wanting to take or keep bailout dollars.

“I disagree with the administration in this sense,” Schumer said. “I have no problem if companies want to get out of this program and get out of the program quickly, that's their business and that's their right. And I think that's just fine.”

Axelrod acknowledged the differences, but sought to minimize them.

“Obviously, [Treasury Secretary Timothy] Geithner and [Obama economic adviser Larry] Summers had concerns about that, and they expressed those concerns,” Axelrod said. “But those concerns are at the margins, and the goal is one we share.”

The disagreement about compensation is not expected to prevent Obama from signing the stimulus bill. He is expected to sign it Tuesday in Denver, making the pay provisions law. So any changes would have to be in new legislation.

House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.) indicated where the legislative debate over executive compensation might play out. Frank, whose committee is looking at a rewrite of financial regulation, wants to give shareholders more control over setting executive pay, a legislative provision commonly called “say on pay.”

“Let the shareholders deal with it,” Frank said on "Face the Nation."