As the AIG bonus scandal explodes, Republicans are looking for ways to blame the president and the majority party. Privately, some admit that this is the first attack that’s sticking after two months of grappling with the administration and its economic policies. In private and in public, some conservatives are cool toward attacking AIG’s bonuses and demanding more government regulation of companies that receive TARP money — even if it’s a one-time deal. And some conservatives are attempting to shift the focus of voter outrage from the bonuses to the bailouts themselves.
“There is a fair degree of hypocrisy in this,” said one Republican House staffer. “It’s as if Geithner had been Treasury secretary for last three years and Obama was president in September. We had a bipartisan vote for the bailout - although the opposition was bipartisan, too. Neither party comes to this with clean hands.” The staffer echoed the public statements of some conservative members of Congress — that the frenzy of bonus-bashing was moving the debate further to the left, and losing focus for the larger battle against endless big-business rescue packages and government intervention in the economy.There is no unified Republican argument against the AIG bonuses, and there is some surprise at how quickly the party’s leaders have adopted a populist campaign to penalize AIG and pull back the bonuses. The NRCC and House Minority Whip Eric Cantor are attacking Democrats as tacit supporters of the AIG stimulus, a strategy that took several days to get off the ground.