Bankers will defend bailout spending at House hearing

The bankers are not sympathetic figures in Congress, particularly in the more populist House. The initial spending of the bailout funds was secretive, lacking strict requirements that the banks account publicly for how they were using the money. A government watchdog reported last week that the Treasury under Bush overpaid the banks for the assets it obtained in exchange for the capital infusion.

The banks weren't helped by reports that Wall Street firms doled out more than $18 billion in bonuses to their employees last year or that Goldman Sachs and Wells Fargo had planned conferences in Las Vegas. Goldman Sachs moved its three-day event to San Francisco; Wells Fargo canceled its employee recognition retreat.

Last year, Congress gave an infamous grilling to auto executives when they flew into Washington in private jets to request a taxpayer bailout for their ailing industry.

But most of these bankers didn't beg for their money. They were selected because they were relative healthy banks that could spur more banking activity and eliminate the stigma of taking taxpayer money for other financial institutions.

Two of the banks — Citigroup and Bank of America — later became less stable and the Treasury sent more targeted funds their way.

In his prepared remarks for the committee, Citigroup CEO Vikram Pandit says the government money helped the bank expand mortgages, personal loans and lines of credit for individuals, families and businesses. He said Citigroup plans to pay the government $3.4 billion in annual dividends for the $45 billion it has received.

"Our goal, my goal, is to make this a profitable investment for the American people, as soon as possible," he said.

Wells Fargo, which acquired Wachovia on Dec. 31, reported that it had reopened lines of credit to some Wachovia customers who had been denied credit. It also reported $22 billion in new loan commitments and $50 billion in mortgages in the last quarter of 2008.

With the Vegas junket a fresh memory, Wells Fargo President and CEO John Stumpf made one other point.

"We are always careful stewards of our shareholders' money," he said. "We have never been wasteful. ... We are frugal."

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