Obama Tries to Enlist Community Bankers

Posted December 22, 2009 at 12:36pm

President Barack Obama met Tuesday with officials from 12 regional community banks, urging them to start lending more and to support his financial reform agenda.The meeting was the latest example of Obama’s willingness to turn the tables on business officials, who are more accustomed to petitioning the government. Instead, in Tuesday’s session and one last week with top officials from larger corporate banks, Obama made it clear that he expects them to back items on his agenda.Obama, who spoke at the White House after the Tuesday meeting, said he had the “same conversation— with the smaller bankers that he did with the group of big-bank CEOs. Several of those CEOs emerged from their session with the president looking a little shell-shocked and agreeing with him that they had miscommunicated with their lobbyists, whom Obama said were working against financial regulatory reform even as the CEOs told Obama that they support it.Some of Obama’s critics saw a similar pattern in his meetings with health care industry officials earlier this year, believing that he used the trappings of the White House to intimidate — or at least seduce — them into not opposing his agenda. But even as he made it clear that his desire is for small bankers to get more money out the door to businesses, Obama also acknowledged differences between the small banks and the big ones, asserting that the community banks were not involved in some of the high-risk lending of their larger counterparts. And he suggested the community banks face some regulatory problems that he wants to help fix.“They’re still constrained by some regulatory restraints — we are looking to see if there are possibilities to cut some of the red tape,— he said.“But,— he added, “we think that the more that we can highlight that in some ways, the pendulum may have swung too far in the direction of not lending — after a decade in which it had gone way too far in the direction of getting money out the door, no matter the risk — that if we can get that balance right, that there are businesses and communities out there that are ready to grow again. And we just need to help make that happen.— Obama suggested the community bankers have a “responsibility— to back financial reform legislation. “I did emphasize to them that community banks do have a responsibility to their customers and that many of the consumer protections [in the bill] and [the] effort to create a single Consumer Financial Protection Agency would apply to them,— he said.