WASHINGTON President Barack Obama said he doesn't begrudge the chief executives of JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs their bonuses but called their pay "extraordinary."
In an interview with Bloomberg BusinessWeek, Obama also underscored his call for shareholders to have more of a say on executive pay.
Goldman, which reported a record profit for 2009, announced last week it would award CEO Lloyd Blankfein stock worth about $9 million. JPMorgan chief executive Jamie Dimon is to receive a compensation package worth around $17 million.
"I know both those guys. They're very savvy businessmen. And I, like most of the American people, don't begrudge people success or wealth. That's part of the free market system," Obama said.
"I do think that the compensation packages that we've seen over the last decade at least have not matched up always to performance," he added.
Obama said $17 million is "an extraordinary amount of money," though he noted some baseball players make more.
Obama has long supported legislation to give shareholders more of a voice in setting CEO pay.
"That serves as a restraint and helps align performance with pay," he said.
The White House has ratcheted up its criticism of Wall Street in recent weeks with a proposal to rein in banks' risky activities and a plan to force the firms to pay up to $117 billion to reimburse taxpayers for the bailout.
In December, Obama referred to Wall Street executives as "fat cats."
Later on Wednesday, the White House issued a blog post saying that Obama had not intended to brush off the impact of bonuses or applaud bankers and took issue with what it said was an "inaccurate portrayal" of the president's views on bonuses.
"The president has said countless times as he did in the interview that he doesn't 'begrudge' the success of Americans, but he also expressed 'shock' at the size of bonuses and made clear that there are a number of steps that need to be taken to change the culture of Wall Street," White House deputy communications director Jen Psaki wrote.
"He also made clear, as he has said many times before, that he believes bonuses should take the form of stock so that the compensation is tied to long-term performance," she said.
Psaki also dismissed the idea that Obama had shifted his tone concerning Wall Street. She pointed to several instances over the last year in which Obama has emphasized that he does not disparage wealth but wants to provide better ground rules for the financial system.