At least that’s our impression based on his limited statements about it to Jay Leno last night:
Q Welcome back. We are talking with President Barack Obama.
Before the break I mentioned that they had just passed this new bill which will tax them 90 per cent — and I said it was frightening to me as an American that Congress, whoever, could decide, I don’t like that group, let’s pass a law and tax them at 90 per cent.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, look, I understand Congress’ frustrations, and they’re responding to, I think, everybody’s anger. But I think that the best way to handle this is to make sure that you’ve closed the door before the horse gets out of the barn. And what happened here was the money has already gone out and people are scrambling to try to find ways to get back at them.
The change I’d like to see in terms of tax policy is that we have a system, going back to where we were back in the 1990s, where you and I who are doing pretty well pay a little bit more to pay for health care, to pay for energy, to make sure that kids can go to college who aren’t as fortunate as our — as my kids might be. Those are the kinds of measured steps that we can take. But the important thing over the next several months is making sure that we don’t lurch from thing to thing, but we try to make steady progress, build a foundation for long-term economic growth. That’s what I think the American people expect. (Applause.)
Obviously that’s not a real definitive yes or no, but suggesting the law was made out of frustration and anger and that it’s akin to closing the barn door after the horses have left is not the most glowing endorsement of sound policy. As we said before, we’re guessing that Obama is just hoping and praying it doesn’t pass the Senate in any form like it exists now so that he doesn’t have to make a tough choice.
He also discussed matters related to Barney Frank’s orange jumpsuit comments:
Q I just read today about Merrill Lynch. They handed out $3.6 billion — it’s not even million anymore, it’s billions in bonuses. I know it would make me feel good — shouldn’t somebody go to jail? (Laughter and applause.) I say that because I watch those people in New York, even people who had lost everything — when Bernard Madoff went to jail, at least they felt they got something.
THE PRESIDENT: Right. They got some satisfaction. Here’s the dirty little secret, though. Most of the stuff that got us into trouble was perfectly legal. And that is a sign of how much we’ve got to change our laws — right? We were talking earlier about credit cards, and it’s legal to charge somebody 30 per cent on their credit card, and charge fees and so forth that people don’t always know what they’re getting into. So the answer is to deal with those laws in a way that gives the average consumer a break.
When you buy a toaster, if it explodes in your face there’s a law that says your toasters need to be safe. But when you get a credit card, or you get a mortgage, there’s no law on the books that says if that explodes in your face financially, somehow you’re going to be protected.
So this is — the need for getting back to some common sense regulations — there’s nothing wrong with innovation in the financial markets. We want people to be successful; we want people to be able to make a profit. Banks are critical to our economy and we want credit to flow again. But we just want to make sure that there’s enough regulatory common sense in place that ordinary Americans aren’t taken advantage of, and taxpayers, after the fact, aren’t taken advantage of. (Applause.)
Q Yes — because when I was a kid, we would — banks or credit cards would lend you money so you would pay it back. Now they lend you money so you can’t pay it back. (Laughter.) It’s like we were talking before, I mentioned we all saw A Wonderful Life — Mr. Potter, the meanest man — remember he owned the whole town? You know what he charged on a mortgage? Two per cent. (Laughter.)