President Barack Obama told top bankers Monday to explore "every responsible way" to increase lending, saying they were obliged to help repair the American economy after being saved by the taxpayer-funded bailout.
In a statement after more than an hour with the executives, Obama said he reminded them that much of the financial crisis that took the U.S. banking system to the brink of collapse had been "of their own making." He also exhorted the executives - both in private and in public - to drop their opposition an overhaul of the nation's financial industry.
"If they wish to fight common sense consumer protections, that's a fight I'm more than willing to have," Obama told reporters in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the executive mansion.
He also urged lenders to find creative ways to free up lending. Obama said banks have benefited from bailouts and should use that strength to lend more money to consumer and businesses.
"But given the difficulty business people are having as lending has declined and given the exceptional assistance banks received to get them through a difficult time," he said, "we expect them to explore every responsible way to help get our economy moving again."
"And so I urged these institutions here today to go back and take a third and fourth look about how they are operating when it comes to small business and medium-sized business lending."
The bankers planned to tell Obama that lending is limited by factors beyond their control: The sluggish economy and tighter oversight by regulators. The slow economy has businesses reluctant to expand - and makes banks more grim about their prospects. Loan applications are down.
Meanwhile, regulators are telling banks to be more skeptical about potential borrowers. They are forcing banks to keep larger cushions of capital to protect against future losses. That means there's less money available to lend.
The meeting cam amid Obama's fierce criticism of Wall Street. In an interview that aired on Sunday, Obama rebuked executive paychecks at firms that only last year required tax dollars to keep their doors open.
"I did not run for office to be helping out a bunch of fat cat bankers on Wall Street," Obama told CBS's "60 Minutes."
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