This was a vote on a motion to suspend the usual House rules and pass a “sense of the Congress” resolution. That resolution stated that salaries should be limited and bonuses returned by companies receiving federal assistance. It was drafted in response to the reports that large bonuses were given to AIG executives after the federal government contributed almost $200 billion to rescue the company. The new head of AIG had told Congress that “AIG's hands are tied. Outside counsel has advised that these [retention payments] are legal, binding obligations of AIG.”
Rep. Frank (D-MA), chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, in which the resolution was drafted, said “there is a great deal of anger in the nation . . . (and) it is a grave error to enrich people who have apparently threatened to leave the company, abandon it and not help them get out of the problems they created unless they are given these bribes called ‘retention bonuses’. . . .” Rep. Jackson-Lee (D-TX), speaking in support of the resolution, said: “It appears that the AIG executives may not have broken the law but certainly the spirit of the law. This is unconscionable. It is an outrage that these businessmen have bucked the system and chosen to dole out federally appropriated dollars . . . .”
A “sense of the Congress resolution” is a measure used to express the opinion of Congress about a subject of current national interest. It is symbolic in nature and not binding. It is not sent to the President for his signature and lacks the force of law.
Rep. Bachus (R-AL), who was the leading Republican on the resolution, first said he was “extremely disappointed by the recent news that AIG paid millions of dollars in money bonuses after it received a massive government bailout.” He noted that there was agreement “that the decisions that led to the collapse of AIG and the payment of large bonuses to some of the same executives who caused the collapse are indefensible. “ He then went on to say that he was opposed to the resolution because it “is focused on delivering political cover to (the Democrats)”, whom he claimed were responsible for allowing the bonuses to be paid.
Frank responded that, in September of 2008, Federal Reserve Chairman Bernanke and then Treasury Secretary Paulson, “two appointees of George Bush told Congress that they were going to lend billions to AIG.” Frank added: ''They didn't ask us . . . So from September of 2008 until January 20, 2009, the Bush Administration was in charge of this.”
A motion to suspend the rules and pass a resolution is a procedural mechanism that is usually employed to gain approval for measures that the House leadership deems to be not very controversial. There is a limited time period for debate. Amendments cannot be offered. A two thirds vote is required to approve the motion and pass the resolution, rather than the usual majority.
The motion failed on a vote of 255-160. Two hundred and forty-three Democrats and twelve Republicans voted “aye”. One hundred and fifty-nine Republicans and one Democrat voted “nay”. Since fewer than the required two thirds House Members present voted in favor, the resolution regarding AIG salaries and bonuses was not adopted.