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Today, President Obama takes a stage made famous by a president he admires. One hundred fifty years ago, Abraham Lincoln spoke against the expansion of slavery at New York City's Cooper Union. That speech drew wide attention and made him a presidential contender in 1860.

In 2010, the current president takes that symbolic stage to talk about Wall Street. He's pushing for new financial regulations.

NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY: President Obama will make his case for new financial rules in New York this morning, not far from Wall Street. He'll urge the financial industry to get behind the effort. He says Washington needs to put some guardrails in place if it hopes to keep the economy from going off another cliff.

BARACK OBAMA: We have to acknowledge that the status quo has not worked. We've got to acknowledge that it hasn't worked for ordinary Americans. It hasn't worked for the economy as a whole. It's worked for a few, but not for the many.

HORSLEY: This is not a new interest for the president. He's speaking today in the same venue where he called for regulatory overhaul as a candidate more than two years ago. Mr. Obama's message has not changed much since then. He told supporters at a California fundraiser this week the invisible hand of a free market must be guided by a higher principle.

OBAMA: A free market doesn't mean you should be free to do whatever you want...

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

OBAMA: ...however you can get it, without regard to consequences. There have to be some rules of the road. There's got to be some accountability. There's got to be some transparency, or else we're going to see more abuses and disastrous meltdowns like the one we just experienced.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

HORSLEY: This is one battle where the president enjoys broad public support. Pollster Andy Kohut of the Pew Research Center says despite growing opposition to government intervention in the economy generally, more than six in 10 Americans want to see more regulation of the financial industry.

ANDY KOHUT: There's an anti-government sentiment, but there's also anti-big business and anti-Wall Street sentiment all tied together in sort of a populist opinion. And this is what they're tapping into.

HORSLEY: For months, Senate Democrats and Republicans have been trying to fashion a compromise bill that would offer more consumer protection, more transparency for complex securities, and would give the government power to dismantle big troubled companies before they jeopardize the whole financial system.

So far, no Republican senator has been willing to support the far-reaching bill. But lawmakers in both parties say they're not that far apart and a bipartisan agreement is possible. Senate Democrats would need at least one Republican vote to overcome a possible filibuster.

Congressional analyst Sarah Binder of the Brookings Institution thinks Democrats will push for the vote with or without that GOP backing.

SARAH BINDER: Either they'll go for a bill or they'll go for an issue. I think deep down they prefer a bill. But they seem not too unhappy about the prospects that perhaps it will blow up, because then they get a campaign issue.

HORSLEY: In recent days, President Obama has been pointedly mocking Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell for speaking out against the legislation after a private meeting with Wall Street executives. The Democratic National Committee is running TV ads blasting the GOP for holding up the bill.

(SOUNDBITE OF AD)

Unidentified Man: For years, Republican stood by while Wall Street ran wild: For years, Republican stood by while Wall Street ran wild: risky bets, lax regulations. When the economy collapsed, Republicans looked the other way.

HORSLEY: Norm Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute says Republicans have grown concerned in recent days that simply blocking the bill will make them appear to be siding with unpopular Wall Street bankers.

NORM ORNSTEIN: This has definitely been the first issue in a long time where Republicans found that their rhetoric about socialism or bailouts wasn't working, and they were put on the defensive.

HORSLEY: Ornstein cautions that a compromise could still break down over the details of the bill. But yesterday, a lone Republican - Chuck Grassley - did vote for a measure in a Senate committee that would regulate derivatives and that could become part of the broader overhaul.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington.

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