"It does offend our values when executives of big financial firms that are struggling pay themselves huge bonuses even as they rely on extraordinary assistance to stay afloat," the president said.
Mr. Obama lauded Treasury's decision to limit compensation for executives from firms that have not yet repaid the government. He said Kenneth Feinberg, the special master at Treasury tasked with handling executive pay, "was faced with the difficult task of striking the proper balance between standing up for taxpayers and returning a measure of stability to our financial system."
"Under these competing interests, I believe he's taken an important step forward today in curbing the influence of executive compensation on Wall Street while still allowing these companies to succeed and prosper," said Mr. Obama. "But more work needs to be done."
The president made the comments at the start of a signing ceremony for a veterans health care funding reform bill at the White House.
At a briefing before the president made his comments, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters that the White House did not have any involvement in Feinberg's decision. Mr. Obama stressed Thursday that Feinberg had made "an independent judgment."
"You know, I've always believed that our system of free enterprise works best when it rewards hard work," said the president. "This is America. We don't disparage wealth, we don't begrudge anybody for doing well, we believe in success."
Yet the pay packages for executives at bailed-out firms violated Americans' standards of right and wrong, he suggested.
The president also urged the Senate to pass legislation giving shareholders a say in executive pay packages and called on Congress to "move forward on financial reform legislation "that will help prevent the crisis we saw last fall from happening again."