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White House tries to limit the fallout from AIG bonus row

THE White House says it's trying to put strict limits on the next US$30-billion installment of taxpayers' money for American International Group, amid questions about whether the Obama administration responded fiercely enough to revelations of executive bonus payments.

United States President Barack Obama and his top aides expressed outrage at reports that AIG went ahead with US$165 million in bonus payments even though the company received more than US$170 billion in federal rescue money.

Obama directed Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner to see whether there was any way to retrieve or stop the bonus money.

"I mean, how do they justify this outrage to the taxpayers who are keeping the company afloat?" Obama said on Monday.

The financial bailout program remains politically unpopular and has been a drag on Obama's new presidency, even though the plan began under his predecessor, George W. Bush.

The White House is aware of the nation's bailout fatigue; hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars have gone to prop up financial institutions that made poor decisions, while many others who have done no wrong have paid the price.

The burgeoning controversy raged yesterday as Senator Richard Shelby, ranking Republican on the Banking Committee, charged that Geithner had known about the AIG bonus payments before paying the bailout and failed to stop them.

"I don't know what President Obama knew about it," Shelby said. "I'd say he probably didn't know about it."

Shelby said Geithner "either knew or should have known what was going on."

AIG reported this month that it lost US$61.7 billion in the fourth quarter, the largest corporate loss in history, and it has benefited from more than US$170 billion in a federal rescue.


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