Are Executive Pay Caps Getting Sliced From the Stimulus?

During an interview with TPMDC yesterday, a senior Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee delivered troubling news: His party could remove the Senate’s strong executive pay limits from the stimulus bill in an attempt to keep the measure’s costs down.

“The plan is to take out the executive compensation provisions … and blame the Republicans for setting out the level [of $800 billion]” for the final version of the stimulus, Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) told me.

The Senate’s limits on compensation for executives receiving government bailout money — a welcome sign after President Obama’s CEO pay caps were revealed to be riddled with loopholes — were scored as a $10 billion money-loser by the Congressional Budget Office. Because of pressure to limit the size of the stimulus in order to retain GOP senators’ support, Sherman’s prediction about the executive pay caps is looking likely to come true.

But why would Democrats want to send such a bizarre signal about their commitment to reining in corporate excess? When has gotten more than 300,000 signatures on a petition calling for even stronger salary caps at bailed-out companies, why would Congress want to water down its proposed pay limits?Neither Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-NV) office nor Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus’ (D-MT) office responded to queries about cutting the pay caps. But we’ll know more this afternoon, when a formal conference meeting is being held with GOP negotiators in the room. Of course, all signs are pointing to an agreement that already exists after closed-door talks among Democrats stretched into the night yesterday.

“I am a negotiator, but yesterday at 2:30, [when Democrats met], I was not invited to negotiating,” Sen. Chuck Grassley (IA), one of two GOPers named to join the stimulus conference, told reporters this morning. “Now, today, I am invited to negotiate. So, you know, who knows whether Republicans are going to count in this process or not.”

Sen. Olympia Snowe (ME) isn’t technically a conferee, but her status as one of the stimulus’ three GOP centrist supporters means that she’s been kept in the loop throughout the process. Snowe is also a chief sponsor of one of the more controversial executive pay measures that’s on the chopping block — Snowe’s vote may not be contingent on keeping her proposal in the bill, however.

“She would obviously like to see it included,” Snowe’s spokesman told me, adding: “For her, a total dollar figure isn’t the sticking point, as long as the provisions in the figure create jobs … if [the pay limits] come out as a matter of the negotiations, I don’t know that it’s going to be a deal-breaker.”