Obama To Push 'Fat Cat' Bankers To Lend More

President Obama meets with representatives of the nation's biggest banks Monday, and he could have some sharp words for them. Over the weekend, the president expressed exasperation with bankers on Wall Street. In an interview with CBS's 60 Minutes, Obama called the bankers "fat cats." He also praised the House of Representatives for passing a bill imposing new regulations on financial firms.

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ARI SHAPIRO, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Sitting in for Steve Inskeep, I'm Ari Shapiro.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

President Obama meets today with leaders of America's biggest banks, and he may have some sharp words them. Over the weekend the president expressed exasperation with bankers on Wall Street.

President BARACK OBAMA: I did not run for office to be helping out a bunch of, you know, fat cat bankers on Wall Street.

MONTAGNE: Mr. Obama was speaking on the CBS program 60 Minutes. Members of his administration was also on the airwaves yesterday. And joining us now, as she does most Mondays, is NPR news analyst Cokie Roberts. Good morning.

COKIE ROBERTS: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: And the bank bail out seemed to be winding down. Why is the president focusing on the financial institutions right now and so sort of vigorously?

ROBERTS: I think there's a bunch of reasons. First of all, it's year end bonus time for the banks and the bankers are still getting these great, big, enormous bonuses that make everybody mad, and the president says the banks don't get it. The American people are furious with them. And the president also needs a little shoring up with his own liberal base after his decision to add more troops to Afghanistan and the continued economic bad times. So, going after the banks is a good way to sort of rev-up his popular supporters. The president also wants to put spotlight on the fact that these banks are spending money, lobbying Congress against new regulation, and he wants the Senate to follow through on the Financial Services Regulatory Bill that the House passed late on Friday. Although, Senate action on that is likely to be a long time coming.

MONTAGNE: And, Cokie, given that he referred to bankers generally as fat cats last night, what are the bankers he is going to talk to today likely to hear?

ROBERTS: I don't know if he is going to serve them food but when she answered that question on NBC yesterday, Council of Economic Advisors chairman, Christina Romer kept using the word responsible. That the banks need to be responsible in lending more to small business. That's key in terms of job creation. They have to find ways to keep responsible homeowners in their homes. But she is also talking about the way people on Wall Street are compensated, and she says that would lead to irresponsible risk taking. Basically the administration is still frustrated that money is not moving through the system, that credit isn't out there and that's, of course, what the bail out was all about.

MONTAGNE: And then out there talking yesterday the president's economic advisors couldn't seem to agree on whether the recession is over. Really over.

ROBERTS: Really over. Economic Council Chair Lawrence Summers said everyone agrees the recession is over, and he predicted job growth will start next spring. But apparently hadn't heard Ms. Romer, who when asked that question is it over? Said, of course, not. She was making the point that whatever the technical definition is, it isn't really a recovery until people get back to work. And she was trying to make the point that it's still a crisis situation. It's not time to start pulling back on new jobs programs which the administration hopes to push in Congress or to pull in, in the face of the huge federal deficit which Republicans are talking a lot about.

MONTAGNE: And then the Senate yesterday voted to add to those deficit. It passed a bill aimed at keeping many government departments in operation for another year. I guess it's an important bill but what's the likely effect of that vote?

ROBERTS: Well, there was a lot of Republicans saying, here is the deficit spending happening all over again, but there isn't a lot of choice about keeping government in operation, though, there were a lot of pet projects in those bills but, you know, the fact that the Senate voted on it Sunday afternoon tells you something, Renee. They are getting very cranky. They have been in session 14 straight days. Harry Reid is trying to wear them down, so they will basically say uncle and vote for the health care bill and usually that's a pretty good strategy. The Senate usually does get things done by exhaustion but sometimes they get so cranky they dig in and that can be a problem.

MONTAGNE: NPR news analyst Cokie Roberts.

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