WASHINGTON — Lined up shoulder to shoulder in dark suits, eight major banking CEOs tried to assure lawmakers Wednesday that they were lending the taxpayer money they received last fall. But they faced skepticism about whether they were doing enough to help struggling consumers and businesses.
While the tone was mostly polite, members of the House Financial Services Committee repeatedly highlighted the banking chiefs' salaries and bonuses and roasted them for their role in the nation's financial meltdown.
"You created the mess we're in," said Rep. Michael Capuano, D-Mass. "Now you say, 'Sorry, trust us and by the way we really didn't want the money.'"
The CEOs, who included Bank of America's Ken Lewis and Wells Fargo's John Stumpf, were largely contrite about their pay and their stewardship of taxpayers' money. Sitting at a witness table surrounded by news photographers in an overflow crowd of banking lobbyists and consumer advocates such as Jesse Jackson, they outlined their efforts to make loans in difficult economic conditions and acknowledged the need for more regulation.
Among the peace offerings, Citigroup CEO Vikram Pandit said he would work for $1 in salary and no bonus until his bank returns to profitability. Lewis and Stumpf indicated they would be willing to delay some foreclosures until after Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner details a new plan to keep struggling borrowers in their homes. Going down the line, the CEOs also said they were eager to pay back the funds invested under the Troubled Asset Relief Program and that they didn't expect to go to the government well again.
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