President Obama's economic advisers, along with top lawmakers, expressed outrage and anger Sunday over revelations that bailed-out insurance giant American International Group was going ahead with plans to pay executives tens of millions of dollars in new bonuses.
"I don't know why they would follow a policy that's really not sensible. It's obviously going to ignite the ire of millions of people," Austan Goolsbee, of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, told "FOX News Sunday."
"It is outrageous," chief economic adviser Larry Summers told ABC's "This Week."
Summers said these kinds of bonus payments should be a matter of future regulations.
AIG has gotten more than $170 billion in a public bailout. Just this month, the company reported a loss of $61.7 billion for the fourth quarter of last year -- the largest corporate loss in history.
But AIG's chairman said the company entered into the bonus agreements in early 2008 before getting into severe financial trouble. Summers said the government determined it could not break those contracts after the fact.
Both White House advisers, though, said the Obama administration had taken steps to limit the AIG bonuses and would work to prevent such a pay-out from happening again.
Goolsbee said Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner was "really upset" by the pay-outs and "berated" representatives from AIG after hearing about the plans.
Asked if the bonuses could hurt the administration's attempts to sell its wide-reaching economic plans, Goolsbee said: "You worry about that backlash."
Obama advisers weren't the only ones unleashing on AIG over the weekend. Some lawmakers showed they wanted to make an example of the insurance company.
Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, told "FOX News Sunday" that AIG was "abusing the system" and the government needs to find out what payments are "legally recoverable."
Frank said it's "inappropriate" for those behind the bonuses to "stay in power" at AIG.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi issued a written statement calling the pay-outs "unconscionable" and said Congress would seek to "recover taxpayer funds of companies that abuse the privilege of taxpayer assistance."
"I call upon the executives at AIG to right the wrong they have done to American taxpayers, who are footing the bill for the most expensive government rescue in history. They should renounce the bonuses and refuse the excessive retention pay they previously agreed to," Pelosi said.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., released a written statement Sunday calling on AIG Chairman Edward Liddy to step down.
In a letter to Geithner dated Saturday, Liddy informed Treasury that outside lawyers had informed the company that AIG had contractual obligations to make the bonus payments and could face lawsuits if it did not do so.
Liddy said in his letter that "quite frankly, AIG's hands are tied" although he said that in light of the company's current situation he found it "distasteful and difficult" to recommend going forward with the payments.
The large bulk of the payments at issue cover AIG Financial Products, the unit of the company that sold credit default swaps, the risky contracts that caused massive losses for the insurer.
A white paper prepared by the company says that AIG is contractually obligated to pay a total of about $165 million of previously awarded "retention pay" to employees in this unit by Sunday, March 15. The document says that another $55 million in retention pay has already been distributed to about 400 AIG Financial Products employees.
The company says in the paper it will work to reduce the amounts paid for 2009 and believes it can trim those payments by at least 30 percent. AIG also pledged to Geithner that it would restructure $9.6 million in bonuses scheduled to go a group that covers the top 50 executives. Liddy and six other executives have agreed to forgo bonuses. The group of top executives getting bonuses will receive half of the $9.6 million now, with the average payment around $112,000.
This group will get another 25 percent on July 14 and the final 25 percent on September 15. But these payments will be contingent on the AIG board determining that the company is meeting the goals the government has set for dealing with the company's financial troubles.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.