In an appearance on ABC's "This Week" program, Sen. Kent Conrad said executives at American International Group should have never received the bonuses,, which have been reported to have totaled anywhere from $165 million to $218 million.
"If I were in charge of AIG, I'd call in these folks and I'd say, 'Look, you either give them back or you're fired.' That we can do, because we own the company," said Conrad, D-N.D.
The federal government has provided $170 billion to help the insurance giant remain solvent, essentially amounting to about 80 percent of the company's value.
"There's no way you can justify, when the federal government is putting up $170 billion to rescue that company, that folks who were involved in creating this mess get $165 million in bonuses," Conrad said.
The U.S. House has voted to impose a 90 percent tax on bonuses paid this year to companies that received more than $5 billion in government bailout funds
Appearing on the same program, Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said the bill might have gone too far.
"I'm not against getting the money back. In fact, I feel very strongly that we do need to recoup the money," Collins said. "I'm just not certain that either the House-passed bill nor the Senate bill are the best approach."