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Obama Meets Bankers, Urges More Business Lending

President Barack Obama meets with members of the financial industry in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, 14 Dec 2009

The president says his message to the financial sector is simple. "America's banks received extraordinary assistance from American taxpayers to rebuild their industry. And now that they are back on their feet we expect an extraordinary commitment from them to help rebuild our economy."

He says the first step is to increase lending to small and medium-sized businesses - the main engines for job creation in the country.

The president says he knows banks do not want to make the kinds of risky loans that got them in trouble in the first place. But he says there are ways to minimize risk and help entrepreneurs.

"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, we expect them to explore every responsible way to help get our economy moving again," said Mr. Obama.

In a brief appearance before reporters, the president also called for the banks to support efforts to reform the financial-services industry.

He said he was told during the meeting the industry supports reform. But he noted the bankers have intermediaries trying to kill the necessary legislation. "So I made it clear that it is both in the country's interest and ultimately in the financial industry's interest to have updated rules of the road to prevent abuse and excess," the president told reporters.

In a television interview aired on the eve of the meeting, the president left no doubt his patience with Wall Street is running out.

Mr. Obama told the CBS program 60 Minutes he did not go into office to bail out a bunch of wealthy bankers. He said Wall Street does not understand the frustration and anger felt by many Americans who see the big bonuses paid to banking executives.

But the president's leverage with those who received billions in government assistance is growing somewhat limited. Most of the bailout money has been repaid. And just hours before the White House meeting began, the banking giant Citigroup announced it was ready to repay $20 billion it received from the Treasury Department.