Slideshow Obama Vs. Big Banks: A State of the Union Primer

  • February 11 2013, 3:14pm EST
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President Obama has given just three official State of the Union addresses (and one unofficial one in 2009), but bank policy has been a sizable part of them, particularly in the early part of his presidency. With the next State of the Union scheduled for Tuesday evening, we look at Obama's past rhetoric against big banks as well as policy proposals and how they fared.

(Image: Bloomberg News)

Although not technically a State of the Union address, Obama's first speech to both houses of Congress in 2009 includes several mentions of financial services policy. He promised a tougher stance against the largest institutions, and touted a just-announced foreclosure prevention plan. He also warned that he might need more money than the $700 billion slotted to Troubled Asset Relief Program.

Outcome: Obama's first-term was relatively light on the big banks, the foreclosure prevention plans helped far less borrowers than originally promised, and the government never spent all of Tarp, much less asked for more.

Flashback: Obama: $700B Tarp Funds May Not Be Enough

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Roughly a month after Obama calls big banks "fat cats," the president says in his 2010 speech that it's "time to get serious" about financial reform. Obama avoided specifics, but warned lawmakers that if the bill did not meet the test of "real reform, I will send it back." His message was partly directed at Senate lawmakers, who were hashing out a bipartisan compromise.

Outcome: Senate Democrats largely abandoned their attempts at a broadly bipartisan bill, instead picking off three GOP votes to help enact the Dodd-Frank Act in July.

Flashback: Obama Pushes Bank Tax, Reg Reform in State of the Union

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In the same 2010 speech, Obama defended Tarp, saying it helped save the economy. Still, he acknowledged public anger about the bailouts. "I hated it. You hated it. It was about as popular as a root canal," he said. He proposed a fee on the biggest banks to help recoup the costs of Tarp, initially projected to be around $19 billion.

Outcome: The so-called "Financial Crisis Responsibility Fee" has been mentioned repeatedly, but never enacted. Also, the bank-centered part of Tarp (not including the auto bailouts or AIG) actually made money for the government.

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Also during that 2010 address (we told you it was meaty), President Obama called for the creation of a fund that would help small banks boost lending to small businesses. The original idea was to lend out $30 billion to banks in capital that they would use for lending.

Outcome: The Small Business Lending Fund was created by Congress, but it ultimately allocated only about $4 billion in funds. Treasury has said it resulted in significant increases in small biz loans at participating banks, although critics have questioned the credit quality of those loans.

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After the passage of Dodd-Frank in 2010, Obama pretty much abandoned any discussion of banking issues in his State of the Union the following year. For example, he mentioned the word "bank" 12 times in 2009, 10 times in 2010, and just once in 2011.Outcome: Some lawmakers were angry at the absence of banking policy from the speech, noting the big issues, including the ongoing foreclosure crisis and the future of the government-sponsored enterprises, needed to be addressed.

Flashback: Lawmakers Fault Lack of Attention to Banking in State of the Union Speech

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After skipping banks the year earlier, Obama offered some new proposals in his 2012 address, including the creation of a fund to help troubled borrowers refinance their homes. To get around concerns about government spending, Obama suggested that the program should be paid for by fees on big banks.

Outcome: In a presidential election year, this proposal went nowhere fast, although it may come again in this year's address.

Flashback: State of the Union: Obama Proposes New "Fee" on Banks to Spur Refis

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During the same speech, Obama touted the creation of a special unit of federal prosecutors and state attorneys general that would "crack down on large-scale fraud" going forward and a separate task force to look into actions that led up to the financial crisis. "The new unit will hold accountable those who broke the law, speed assistance to homeowners, and help turn the page on an era of recklessness that hurt so many Americans," Obama said.

Outcome: Schneiderman filed suit against JPMorgan Chase in October over alleged abuses by Bear Stearns (which was acquired by JPMorgan in March 2008). Schneiderman promised that more investigations are underway and would see results shortly.

Flashback: N.Y. AG Says Mortgage Task Force Just Getting Started