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Interview with Rep. John Boehner

Interview with Rep. John Boehner

The Situation Room - March 18, 2009

BLITZER: Let's get back to Capitol Hill and talk about responsibility for the AIG mess.

Joining us right now is the Republican leader in the House of Representatives, the minority leader, John Boehner. Mr. Leader, thanks very much for coming in.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: Wolf, it's good to be with you.

BLITZER: The first bailouts for AIG occurred last year during the Bush administration. Congress authorized that money.

Knowing what we know now, looking back on those initial AIG bailouts, what would you have done differently, if anything?

BOEHNER: Well, I think if you look at the facts, we were the fighting -- we're the ones that brought the fight to make sure that we had executive compensation under control. As this money was being spent and the bill was moving through Congress, we're the ones putting -- Republicans putting the restraint on who would get bonuses and how much people would get paid.

But I think, Wolf, we have to remember that Tim Geithner, now the treasury secretary, was the head of the New York Federal Reserve. This was his plan that he implemented and he is the central link...

BLITZER: But it was a plan...

BOEHNER: ... all the way through this process.

BLITZER: ... it was a plan that Henry Paulson, the secretary of the treasury, together with Ben Bernanke, the Federal Reserve chairman, and the White House, all of them said this was an essential idea because if AIG goes down, God only knows what could happen not only to the U.S. economy, but the global economy.

BOEHNER: Well, you know, listen, nobody was -- wanted to bail this out, but when you look at the real risk that the bankruptcy of AIG would have caused not only in the United States, but worldwide, I think they took the responsible action.

But nobody -- nobody thought that they'd be paying bonuses like this to the very people who caused all of these losses.

And the real question, Wolf, is that -- and Mr. Liddy's on the Hill as we speak testifying -- but how long has he known about this problem? Who did he talk to in the administration? Where did the language come from that Senator Dodd put into the stimulus bill that would exempt language, executive compensation language, exempt AIG and allow them to pay these bonuses?

BLITZER: By the way, Senator Dodd denies that he even knew about that language. He doesn't know it got in there. It's a huge mystery, where our congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, and others, our whole team, we're trying to figure out how that language got in there to exempt AIG, but Senator Dodd himself says it's a mystery to him, he doesn't know how it got there. Maybe you have some inside information.

BOEHNER: Well, that language did not exist in either the House version or the Senate version. And the compromise, the final product was written behind closed doors by the Democrat leaders. And it didn't just come from nowhere.

And so there are a lot of questions that need to be answered, and I hope we get answers soon.

BLITZER: I think that's fair enough.

Listen to what the president said today, because he seemed to be taking a direct swipe at some Republicans. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: I think it's very important to remind ourselves that there are a whole bunch of folks now who are feigning outrage about these bonuses that a year ago or two years ago or three years ago said, well, we should never meddle in these compensation plans, these are the best and the brightest, they know what they're doing, that's part of the market. And now suddenly they're outraged.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: How did you interpret what he was saying?

BOEHNER: I'm not quite sure what he was talking about, Wolf.

Listen, nobody in America wants all of this money to be given to our financial institutions in the form of a bailout. This is rubbing the salt in the wounds of American families and small businesses who are already hurting.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Because he seemed to be talking -- to me -- to me, as I heard him say that, he seemed to be saying, all those Republicans who want a free market, who want to deregulate, who want the government off the back of these huge corporations, look what they're -- look what we got as a result of all of that.

BOEHNER: Wolf, you have to understand, there was no deregulation of anything in the financial services industries. As a matter of fact, there was an increase in regulation.

What happened in all of this is that some people got creative in terms of how they could create new products -- new products at different parts of the company -- that were in the unregulated part of the company that caused this infection of our entire financial system.

And so there's plenty of blame to go around here. But this is diverting the attention from the fact that -- somebody in this administration knew that this money was going for bonuses and somehow that language got into this bill.

BLITZER: Yes.

BOEHNER: And all of this is at the hands of the Democrats who control Capitol Hill, control the White House, and who produced this bill.

BLITZER: Back in January, our own Mary Snow was reporting there's hundreds of millions of dollars in bonuses that are still to be paid out by AIG, but apparently no one was really paying all that close attention to that. But you make a fair point, Congressman Boehner.

One final question before I let you go. If the federal government, if the administration now says we need to spend a few more billion dollars to help AIG, are you going to be with them?

BOEHNER: I'm going to have some serious doubts about that.

Listen, this problem is not going to be solved by continuing to throw money at it. And I just think it's time for the federal government to have an exit plan. How are we going to start to get the taxpayer money back out of these companies and back into the treasury and minimize the risk to American taxpayers?

BLITZER: Congressman Boehner, thanks very much for coming in.

BOEHNER: Thank you.

The Situation Room

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