WASHINGTON — President Obama pressed executives from the country's biggest banks Monday to stop lobbying against his proposed financial regulatory overhaul and help get the U.S. economy back on its feet by boosting lending.
"I made very clear that I have no intention of letting their lobbyists thwart reforms necessary to protect the American people," Obama said after meeting for more than one hour with the leaders of 12 banks. "If they wish to fight common-sense consumer protections, that's a fight I'm more than willing to have."
Obama called the session, which was designed to remind banks of the taxpayer assistance they received during the depths of the financial crisis and talk about ways to boost lending to small businesses, candid and productive. He said the banks' plans for so-called second-look loan programs, more hiring, and increased lending targets "sounded positive," but said the executives should "go back and take a third and fourth look" and their small and medium-sized business lending.
Amid increasing tension the administration and the financial sector, Monday's meeting was a chance for both sides to clear the air. Obama made his frustration with Wall Street clear hours before the executives arrived at the White House, telling CBS's 60 Minutes program that he didn't seek office to help "a bunch of fat cat bankers."
Shortly after the meeting, US Bancorp CEO Richard Davis described the gathering as "very productive," adding that "there wasn't a lot of disagreement."
"He didn't call us any names," Davis said.
But Obama touched on the friction over regulatory reform, saying banks need to close the gap between their public statements of support for the effort and their lobbying against it on Capitol Hill. All the executives at the table said they support reform, Obama said.
Still, he said banks that benefited from taxpayer aid have a "greater obligation" to create a system strong enough to avoid a relapse of the crisis, urging them to work with Congress to pass the overhaul.
"In the end, my interest isn't in vilifying any one person or institution or industry. It's not to dictate to them or micromanage their compensation practices," he said. "My job is to ensure that consumers and the larger economy are protected from risky speculation and predatory practices, that credit is flowing, that businesses can grow and jobs are once again being created at the pace we need."
In addition to US Bancorp's Davis, the meeting was attended by Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs; Ken Chenault of American Express; Jamie Dimon of J.P. Morgan Chase & Co.; Richard Fairbank of Capital One; Bob Kelly of Bank of New York Mellon; Ken Lewis of Bank of America; Ron Logue of State Street Bank; John Mack of Morgan Stanley; Richard Parsons of Citigroup; Jim Rohr of PNC; and John Stumpf of Wells Fargo.
Blankfein, Mack and Parsons participated via videoconference after inclement weather kept them from traveling to Washington.