In a dramatic reversal Wednesday, Sen. Chris Dodd confessed to adding language to a spending cap in the stimulus bill last month that specifically excluded executive bonuses included in contracts signed before the bill's passage.
Dodd, D-Conn., told FOX News that Treasury officials forced him to make the change.
"As many know, the administration was, among others, not happy with the language. They wanted some modifications to it," he said. "They came to us, our staff, and asked for changes, and the changes at the time did not seem that obnoxious or onerous."
But the provision has become a flash point for criticism amid the controversy over $165 million in bonuses given out by AIG after securing more than $170 billion in federal aid. The language in the stimulus bill wasn't specific to AIG, but some have expressed outrage that it appears to have created a loophole.
Dodd said the argument put forward by Treasury was that a "flood of lawsuits" would come forward if the change was not made.
Dodd said he was unaware of the AIG bonuses at the time the bill was being written back in early February. He also said he has no reason to believe Treasury officials making the argument knew about the AIG bonuses.
When asked how administration officials have this kind of leverage over members of Congress, Dodd said, "The administration has veto power. ... No one suggested a veto to me, I don't want to imply that to you. But certainly that's not an insignificant tool."
On Tuesday, Dodd told FOX News that he didn't add the exemption.
"When the language went to the conference and came back, there was different language," he said then. "I can tell you this much, when my language left the Senate, it did not include it. When it came back, it did."
Dodd still thinks the Treasury can get the bonuses back, despite the inclusion of a date in the stimulus bill, and he said officials are, in fact, using his very language to claw back the money.
"There is language after that date that says explicitly that the Treasury has the right to modify, reaching back, those bonuses, compensations, if it's inconsistent with the TARP legislation or contrary to the public interest," he said.
"In fact, it's that phrase that the administration is relying on this evening as a means by which they can reach back and maybe get these bonuses back," he said.
Still, Dodd has his enemies. The Senate Republican re-election campaign quickly shot out a statement on the Dodd reversal, as he is a prime target in the 2010 midterm elections and is facing a Republican opponent who, in one poll, is in a statistical tie with him.
"Senator Dodd's reversal on this issue is both astonishing and alarming," the National Republican Senatorial Campaign said in a written statement. "Contrary to his statements and denials over the last 24 hours, Senator Dodd has now admitted that he and his staff did in fact change the language in the stimulus bill to include a loophole for AIG executive bonuses."
The group added that Dodd had "misled voters and equivocated on his statements ."