Obama doesn't "begrudge" Dimon, Blankfein over pay

U.S. President Barack Obama waves as he leaves an impromptu news conference in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, February 9, 2010. REUTERS/Jason Reed

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - 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.

Reporting by Caren Bohan; Editing by Doina Chiacu