US House backs 90-percent tax on bail-out bonuses

March 20th, 2009 - 4:23 am ICT by IANS  

Washington, March 20 (DPA) Spurred on by public ire over bonuses paid at firms that received government bail-outs, the US House of Representatives Thursday gave strong backing to a 90-percent tax on retention bonus payments by companies receiving more than $5 billion in federal funds.

In a show of bipartisan support for the measure, the House passed it 328-93, more than the two-thirds needed for the special law, which bypassed the normal committee process.

Such a tax would also need approval from the Senate, which was working on a separate version of the measure that would impose a 70 percent tax on the bonuses. If that version were to pass both houses would then have to reconcile the difference and reach an agreement on a final measure.

The move comes amidst furor over actions by American International Group (AIG), the world’s largest insurance firm whose near failure in September 2008 helped push a teetering US financial system into rapid descent.

With an estimated $180 billion of government money keeping AIG afloat, the firm last week paid $165 million in retention bonuses to 4,600 traders in the financial products unit whose investments and insurance coverage of subprime mortgage securities

are at the heart of the financial crisis.

“Most Americans believe a bonus is something paid for a job well done,” said Democratic Representative Charles Rangel. “The whole idea that they would be rewarded millions of dollars is repugnant … to any sense of decency.”

Rangel, chair of the Ways and Means Committee, said the “red light” was flashing on the practice.

House Republican Leader John Boehner called the proposal a “bad bill with bad consequences” and laid blame for the situation on Democrats for allowing a last-minute clause in stimulus legislation passed in mid February that grandfathered contracts signed for bonuses and executive pay up to when the law was passed.

The 90-percent tax would apply to people earning more than $250,000, including bonuses, and would stop when the US government’s investment in the company falls below $5 billion. Foreign employees would not be affected, according to Bloomberg financial news service.

The Senate’s 70 percent version would not tax foreign workers.

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