Obama Signs Sweeping New Financial Rules

On Wednesday, President Obama signed into law a new set of financial rules that have what he called the strongest consumer protections in history. The new law is the most sweeping overhaul of Wall Street in more than 70 years. But the law is the latest in a series of big legislative victories for the president that have yet to pay off for him politically.

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President Obama signed into law today a new set of rules for the financial industry. They include what the president called the strongest consumer protections in history. The new law is the most sweeping overhaul of Wall Street in more than 70 years.

But as NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson reports, it's also just the latest in a series of big legislative victories for Mr. Obama that have yet to pay off politically.

MARA LIASSON: At the ceremony today, the president recalled how just two years ago the country was plunged into the worst recession since the Great Depression, and the primary cause was a breakdown in the financial system.

President BARACK OBAMA: Unscrupulous lenders locked consumers into complex loans with hidden costs. Firms like AIG placed massive, risky bets with borrowed money. And while the rules left abuse and excess unchecked, they also left taxpayers on the hook if a big bank or financial institution ever failed.

LIASSON: The new law, the president said, would fix that problem, demanding accountability from bankers, borrowers and consumers.

Pres. OBAMA: And unless your business model depends on cutting corners or bilking your customers, you've got nothing to fear from reform.

LIASSON: And the president promised that the most unpopular element in the government's response to the 2008 crisis would never happen again.

(Soundbite of applause)

Pres. OBAMA: There will be no more tax-funded bailouts, period.

LIASSON: The signing had all the usual pomp and ceremony: beaming lawmakers, a few civilians on stage as proof the bill would help ordinary Americans. But there was something almost anticlimactic about the event, maybe because it had taken so long to pass and because in the end the bill got far less bipartisan support than was originally expected, as the president acknowledged today.

Pres. OBAMA: And I also want to thank the three Republican senators who put partisanship aside...

(Soundbite of applause)

Pres. OBAMA: ...judged this bill on the merits and voted for reform.

LIASSON: The law the president signed today is just the latest in a series of big consequential pieces of legislation Mr. Obama has passed with great difficulty through a deeply divided Congress: first, the stimulus bill, then health care and now new rules for Wall Street.

But all these accomplishments do not appear to be making the president or his party more popular. As Mr. Obama signed the Wall Street bill today, a new Quinnipiac poll was released showing his approval rating dropping to 44 percent, and perhaps more ominously, 37 percent said they would vote for an unnamed Republican in 2012. Only 27 percent said they would vote to re-elect the president.

White House aides, like press secretary Robert Gibbs, seem resigned to the fact that they won't get much credit until their biggest problem, the poor economy, begins to change.

Mr. ROBERT GIBBS (White House Press Secretary): If your neighbor lost their house and if you lost your job and a pollster called you and said: How do you feel about the president? I don't think that it's a wild-eyed stretch to believe that you would think things still need to get better in this country.

LIASSON: The signing took place at the Ronald Reagan Building, just a few short blocks from the White House. The venue was symbolic. Mr. Obama has talked about Ronald Reagan as the kind of transformational president he himself hopes to be. But White House aides are also increasingly looking to Reagan as a political model for how an unpopular president with a bad economy can minimize his party's losses in his first midterm election.

Although back in 1982, the 26 House seats the Republicans lost were considered devastating to Reagan, he went on to win re-election easily, a feat the Obama White House would be happy to duplicate.

Mara Liasson, NPR News, the White House.

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