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Cole Comments on Geithner, AIG and Bonuses

March 18, 2009

WASHINGTON – Congressman Tom Cole (OK-04) made the following remarks on the House floor on 3/19/2009.

"Mr. COLE: I thank the gentleman for yielding. I thank him for the way in which he framed the debate and did it in a way we can all understand. But this has been a troubling episode as well.
I think I guess what I'd call Bonusgate begins, I like to think, with three words. We've heard a lot of the three words recently. We've heard the word inherit, we've heard the word transparency, and we've heard the word accountability.

Well, this is not a situation that was inherited by this administration or by this majority. This was a situation that came into being on their watch. This is a situation where they have not been transparent. Quite the opposite. They have done everything they can to obscure what happened, when it happened, who's responsible.

Finally, it's certainly an incident where, at least to this point, nobody has been held accountable for anything. It's just something that somehow is unfortunate, but we are going to move collectively to try and correct before we have even identified who created the problem for us in the first place.

What do we know? Well, we do know a lot. We do know that Secretary Geithner has been involved in designing legislation around both the bailout and the stimulus literally since November--really, since September, when he was involved in his capacity as the Chairman of the Federal Reserve in New York.

We do know that, frankly, he was aware at some point late last year or probably early this year, at the minimum, there were going to be large bonuses paid. Certainly, the Fed had been informed that, and we would expect in his position there and as Secretary of the Treasury he would have been informed.

We do know that he had the means to stop this. He literally released $30 billion at the beginning of this month to AIG. At that point, he could have said, Look, you do this; no money. You're bankrupt.

I suspect something could have happened where these bonuses wouldn't have been paid out.
We also know that he didn't bother to tell the President of the United States, for whom he works and to whom he is responsible, anything about this until the day before it happened. That's what the Secretary has said, that's what the President has said. 

So we know that Mr. Geithner has been around this problem a lot and we know that he did not--or, it appears he did not inform the President.

The second thing we know relates to the stimulus bill. My friend, Mr. LaTourette, went through that pretty well. We had a bill that was rammed through, literally was put together in a hurry, where this body guaranteed its Members by unanimous bipartisan vote we would have time to read it. We weren't given the time that in this body we said we would give Members.

We know that the bill eventually ended up in a conference committee. We have a pretty good idea who the six people were there, one of whom we now presume had nothing to do with this. I would certainly take the chairman at his word.

And we know that that language was inserted in that conference. It was not something that was inherited from the last administration. It was not something, to be fair, that was even in the first version of the stimulus bill. It was something that was specifically put there.

And so, while we know that the majority didn't read the bill and we know that the minority didn't read the bill, and I doubt the President read the bill, somebody read the bill. Somebody read the bill well enough to know, Hey, there's language in here that's going to prevent the payment of bonuses--and we need to get that out and put something in. So somebody did indeed finally read the bill.

We also know that today, rather than confront those questions, we decided we'd do everything we could on the floor of this body to look like we were doing something. As a matter of fact, I would argue we made a lot of the same mistakes.

We presented a bill that hadn't gone through committee, that people hadn't seen, that hadn't been discussed, because we needed to show that we were going to act. And we presented a resolution which, thank goodness, did not make it through, which essentially would have exonerated the administration.

Now those are all things that we know. What should we do, is now the real question, it seems to me. The first thing we should do is do what the President did in the very first week of this administration and say: I made a mistake. I think the classic word was: I screwed up.
I think the President and the administration, certainly the majority, screwed up. I think admitting it would be helpful.

The second thing I would do if I were the President of the United States is fire the Secretary of the Treasury. I wouldn't wait for him to resign. I would make the point that if there's something this explosive and this important and this damaging and you know about it for months and you don't bother to tell me about it until the day before it happens, when I'm in almost no position to do anything about it, I'm sorry, you're not really who I need to be the Secretary of the Treasury. Goodbye.

I think the President would score enormous points within his own party. Indeed, earlier this evening we actually heard essentially a Democratic Member of Congress calling in this floor for him to do exactly that, something he ought to do.

Finally, we need the people in that room to just simply fess up. One out of six of them did it; and, if they did it at somebody else's instructions at the White House, then they ought to tell us who that was. Who sent that language down? Or, ``I drafted it,'' or whatever. But there is not that many people involved. I still retain faith that the truth is going to come out here and that people will step up and do the right thing.

The great British statesman Winston Churchill was often exasperated with our people and with the United States. He used to like to say, ``You can always count on the American people to do the right thing, after they have exhausted every other possibility.''

I would suggest that is what the administration has been doing, they have been exhausting possibilities. But in the end, they just simply need to do the right thing: Fire the Secretary, in my opinion, who certainly has not served this President well; admit, whoever put this language in there, that they did it, and tell us who instructed or asked them or requested that they do it; and, finally, just level with the American people instead of pass smokescreen, whitewash legislation, which, by the way, is dangerous in and of itself, as my friend from Ohio alluded.

You don't use the Tax Code as a punitive weapon directed at people. It is pretty close to a bill of attainder. It is an extraordinarily bad and blunt instrument, and to do it only to provide cover is, I think, a dangerous thing. I don't think many of my colleagues who voted for this on the other side expect that this will become law. This was a political exercise on this floor put together at the last minute to give people cover when they went home.

So let's show Mr. Churchill for once that perhaps he is mistaken; perhaps we can do the right thing without exhausting every other possibility. I ask the administration to step forward and do that, provide the kind of leadership that the President promised that he would give us in the campaign, leadership that is transparent, leadership that is accountable.

I yield back to my friend from Ohio."