Discussing Wall Street executives' reaction to his proposed new fees on major banks, the President delivered a simple message: "Instead of sending a phalanx of lobbyists to fight this proposal, or employing an army of lawyers and accountants to help evade the fee, I suggest you might want to consider simply meeting your responsibilities."
Specifically, the President was announcing a proposal for a new Financial Crisis Responsibility Fee to be imposed on the debt of the largest financial firms until the American people are fully compensated for the extraordinary assistance they provided to Wall Street -- read the full fact sheet. Describing TARP as "a distasteful but necessary thing to do," the President explained that despite many dire predictions, most of that money has been recouped – but that "most" is not enough:
My commitment is to recover every single dime the American people are owed. And my determination to achieve this goal is only heightened when I see reports of massive profits and obscene bonuses at some of the very firms who owe their continued existence to the American people -- folks who have not been made whole, and who continue to face real hardship in this recession.
We want our money back, and we're going to get it. And that's why I'm proposing a Financial Crisis Responsibility Fee to be imposed on major financial firms until the American people are fully compensated for the extraordinary assistance they provided to Wall Street. If these companies are in good enough shape to afford massive bonuses, they are surely in good enough shape to afford paying back every penny to taxpayers.
He explained that the new fee would only affect the largest firms, those with more than $50 billion in assets, but that it would be in place as long as it takes to make the money back.
He also explained how this fee ties into the larger new foundation he seeks to establish for our economy:
We cannot go back to business as usual. And when we see reports of firms once again engaging in risky bets to reap quick rewards, when we see a return to compensation practices that seem not to reflect what the country has been through, all that looks like business as usual to me. The financial industry has even launched a massive lobbying campaign, locking arms with the opposition party, to stand in the way of reforms to prevent another crisis. That, too, unfortunately, is business as usual. And we're already hearing a hue and cry from Wall Street suggesting that this proposed fee is not only unwelcome but unfair -- that by some twisted logic it is more appropriate for the American people to bear the costs of the bailout, rather than the industry that benefited from it, even though these executives are out there giving themselves huge bonuses.
He closed on an underlying principle: "Ultimately, it is by taking responsibility -- on Wall Street, here in Washington, all the way to Main Street -- that we're going to move past this period of turmoil."