"I really don't want the government to take over these businesses and start telling them everything about what they can do." Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told ABC News in February, when asked about Obama's proposed limits on executive compensation. Senator Jim DeMint, who attacked the original bailout bill as "pure socialism," characterized executive pay caps as a dangerous government intervention. "I think it's a sad day in America when the government starts setting pay, no matter how outlandish they [sic] are," DeMint told the Huffington Post. "This is just a symptom of what happens when the government intervenes and we start controlling all aspects of the economy." DeMint's right-wing compatriot, James Inhofe, also equated limits on compensation with the demise of the American way. "As I was listening to [Obama] make those statements I thought, is this still America? Do we really tell people how to run [a business], and who to pay, and how much to pay?"
A mere six weeks later, DeMint and Inhofe are now attacking the administration for failing to curb these executive payouts. In a long diatribe delivered on the Senate floor on Tuesday, Inhofe abandoned his earlier defense of businesses to make their own decisions about compensation to express his "deep anger" over the pay. "I don't know how someone at AIG giving out or receiving a bonus right now can look at themselves in the mirror," Inhofe thundered on the floor. "You can be sure that we will do all we can to right this wrong and get these bonuses back." DeMint has also found ways to channel his newfound anger against corporate pay. In a letter sent to the Senate Banking Committee yesterday, DeMint, along with David Vitter and Jim Bunning, demanded that AIG contracts be formally subpoenaed to determine why the company was "specifically exempt[ed]" from the executive compensation limits. In other words, DeMint is now asking why AIG hasn't been forced to comply with the conditions that he had so vehemently opposed.
What was once emblematic of a free-market economy--the ability of private industry to determine its wages--is now the sign of a Democrat-led "fiasco" caused by a "lack of transparency and accountability," in the words of DeMint's letter to the Banking Committee. Of course, there are plenty of good reasons to be steamed about AIG's bonuses, but it sure would be nice if Senate Republicans spared us the rank hypocrisy next time.