Obama Has a ‘Candid’ Talk With Bankers

Posted December 14, 2009 at 12:46pm

President Barack Obama had stern words for bankers on Monday, demanding that they repay taxpayers who loaned them billions over the past year by loosening the lending strings and curbing lobbying against financial reform legislation.

Obama, who spoke at the White House, said he had engaged in a “candid and productive— session with a dozen CEOs of major financial institutions — people he had just called “fat cats— in a “60 Minutes— interview broadcast Sunday.

“My main message in today’s meeting was very simple: that America’s banks received extraordinary assistance from American taxpayers to rebuild their industry and now that they’re back on their feet, we expect an extraordinary commitment from them to help rebuild our economy,— Obama said.

The president said there was a disconnect between what the CEOs were telling him about their position on the financial reform bill and their lobbyists’ aggressive opposition to the measure on Capitol Hill.

“Around the table, all the financial industry executives said they supported financial regulatory reform,— Obama said. “The problem is, there’s a big gap between what I’m hearing here in the White House and the activities of lobbyists on behalf of these institutions or associations of which they’re a member up on Capitol Hill. I urged them to close that gap, and they assured me that they would make every effort to do so.—

After the meeting, U.S. Bancorp CEO Richard Davis acknowledged that the CEOs have not been completely clear with lobbyists about what they want, and he vowed to improve lines of communication.

“We think there is probably a disconnect too,— Davis said. But Davis did not say that clearer instructions would involve a pullback in lobbying against the bill.

Obama demanded that the banks loosen credit to small businesses in particular. Davis said the banks wanted to increase the amount loans they make but cautioned against lending that would be irresponsible.