Give back the bonuses

Congressional leaders should impose a 10 percent pay cut for members of the House and Senate that will similarly be restored when the jobless rate falls.

For high-level Washington insiders who do not approve: Consider what 17.5 percent of Americans who are jobless plus their spouses and kids think of you when they did not take a pay cut of 10 percent, they took a pay cut of 100 percent, because of your policies.

Then the president should call on leaders of banking, finance, investment, insurance and pharmaceuticals to come to his jobs summit with specific, concrete proposals detailing how they will help their country and create new jobs, beginning with this:

The leaders of the major Wall Street firms and money-center banks should give back their bonuses. They can donate 100 percent to charity. They can return the bonuses to the company. Just give back the money.

Lloyd Blankfein, chairman of Goldman Sachs, should be applauded for his apology to Americans. But Americans should not be asked to “let them eat apologies.” Blankfein and colleagues at Goldman and other institutions should not prosper by a king’s ransom for what they have done.

The move by Goldman to create a $500 million fund to support small businesses should be applauded. The sum represents only 2 percent of the bonus pool at the firm, but the action offers a signpost of what must be done to make the American recovery real.

Credit card banks should attend the jobs summit and announce they will not only freeze credit card rates, but rescind some of the rate and fee increases that were imposed after the credit card law was enacted. If they refuse, Congress should pass a usury law.

Banks and Wall Street firms holding mortgage portfolios created for speculation should freeze foreclosures for six months.

Pharmaceutical companies should rescind at least 50 percent of the increases in drug prices imposed while they were promising the president in secret deals to lower healthcare costs.

Insurance companies should attend the jobs summit and announce they are freezing premiums at current levels for one year.

America is entering a Christmas season that is reminiscent of a Charles Dickens novel. Those who caused the crisis enjoy the best of times while jobless workers, homeless veterans and hungry children endure the worst of times.

America remains trapped in one of those historic epochs of shameless greed that is reminiscent of the Gilded Age, the Jazz Age and the Roaring ’20s.

In his great novel of the 1920s The Beautiful and the Damned, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote of the uncontrollable excess of wealth without conscience or common sense that led America to the Great Crash and the Great Depression.

In his timeless novel The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck wrote of an underclass of America that in his age, as in ours, has engulfed the poor in misery while it drags the heartland of the nation toward poverty.

Every credit card interest rate increase, every fee, every rise in drug prices, every preventable foreclosure, every increase in insurance premiums acts like a job-destroying tax on the nation at the very moment when countless Americans are suffering and the national economy is ailing.

President Obama needs to do what he has so far failed to. He needs to declare an end to the age of excess he inherited but permits to continue.

Leaders in the government should take responsibility by cutting their own pay and challenge leaders in business to follow suit, and together do the patriotic thing and end the age when some Americans are treated as the beautiful while other Americans are treated as the damned.

Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen and Bill Alexander, then chief deputy majority whip of the House. He holds an LL.M. degree in international financial law from the London School of Economics. He can be read on The Hill’s Pundits Blog and reached at