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Bank CEOs defend their use of taxpayer money

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He conceded that “we are here amidst broad public anger at our industry…. Many people believe – and, in many cases, justifiably so – that Wall Street lost sight of its larger public obligations and allowed certain trends and practices to undermine the financial system’s stability.”

Aid used for loans

The bankers said they have helped hundreds of thousands of homeowners avoid foreclosure and are using the government aid as seed money to make new loans.

They also noted that they are paying billions of dollars in annual dividends on the taxpayer infusions of capital.

The CEOs touted their efforts to restore their firms’ health by restructuring and they talked of curbing rich perks and big pay packages, as they work through the crisis.

“I get the new reality,” said Vikram Pandit, CEO of Citigroup, citing a recent about-face in which the company canceled the publicized purchase of a new corporate jet.

“Now is a good time to remind ourselves that we play a supporting role in the economy – not a lead role,” said Ken Lewis, Bank of America’s CEO. “Our job is to help the real creators of economic value – people who make things, and people who use them – get together and do business.”

Congressmen angry

All this came after a knuckle-rapping statement by Barney Frank (D) of Massachusetts, as he opened the meeting. He described the effort to rescue banks as the opposite of “collateral damage,” such as when innocent civilians are harmed during a military action.

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