WASHINGTON — President Obama challenged top bankers Monday to explore "every responsible way" to increase lending, saying they were obliged to help after being rescued by taxpayers. He asked them to "take a third and fourth look" at their small-business lending.
US Bancorp CEO Richard Davis told the group meeting at the White House that his bank would be willing to take a second look at every loan it rejects. And he said he would present the idea to other members of the Financial Services Roundtable — a group representing the largest financial companies, according to the Roundtable. Davis is its incoming chairman.
Obama, in a statement after more than an hourlong meeting with the executives, 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 to an overhaul of the nation's financial industry.
"If they wish to fight commonsense 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.
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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 consumers 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."
Delay, he said, was not an option he was willing to consider as his administration has focused on digging out an economy that has left more than 15 million Americans out of work. An economy with double-digit unemployment next year threatens political fortunes for Obama's fellow Democrats in the 2010 midterm elections — and presumably even Obama himself in a 2012 re-election bid.
The president has sought to bolster Americans' confidence, talking often about accomplishments from the $787 billion economic stimulus package he sought early in his office and a potential follow-up jobs program to jump-start the economy.
"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," he said.