"We need the people there to do the job, and if you don't pay them for their performance, you'll lose them," said Bill George, a Goldman Sachs board member. "It's much like professional athletes and movie stars."
Some might argue, however, that athletes and movie stars didn't share responsibility for a worldwide economic recession, or get a big taxpayer bailout.
"I don't think you can ever overestimate the lack of shame that banks, investment banks or any other kind of bank has at this point," said Ira Rheingold, from the National Association for Consumer Advocates.
"They're folks that just continue not to get it," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Monday.
Only last month, the president brought bankers in for a White House lecture on shared responsibility.
"Now that they are back on their feet, we expect an extraordinary commitment from them to help us rebuild the economy," the president said.
The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation is also considering penalties for banks that encourage excessive risk-taking in their compensation plans.
Sorkin said that in recent weeks, he believes bank executives have begun to recognize the extent of the public outrage.
"I think they are trying to figure out what to do," he said. "They are grappling with it. When you speak to them you can feel it. It's palpable."
Many big banks are prepared to pay their top earners largely in long term stocks this year, which experts say will keep them more focused on long-term performance.
When top bank executives face Congress Wednesday on what caused the financial crisis, "I expect you're going to see some contrition given the anger," Sorkin said. "I think at this point they do get it enough to say I'm sorry."
But the options for the White House on bonuses are limited, because banks who've repaid the TARP bailout can do anything they want.
"We missed a golden opportunity," Rheingold said. "The government bailed them out, and then failed to ask them to do anything for the American people."
And Sorkin said, the public shouldn't necessarily cheer about fees imposed on banks.
"Usually these costs get passed on," he said.