Obama to meet with bankers, decries 'fat cats'

Mon Dec 14, 2009 8:00am EST

* Obama to meet heads of Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, others

* Obama annoyed at efforts to thwart regulatory reform

* White House sharpens rhetoric as public anger festers

By Caren Bohan

WASHINGTON, Dec 14 (Reuters) - President Barack Obama may have some tough words on Monday for executives of top U.S. banks as he pushes them to step up small-business lending and get behind legislation to overhaul Wall Street regulations.

Aides said that when Obama meets with the heads of firms such as Goldman Sachs (GS.N), J.P. Morgan Chase & Co (JPM.N) and Citigroup Inc (C.N), he will call on them to take responsibility for helping the economy after benefiting from taxpayer-funded bailouts of the financial sector.

Obama complained in an interview with the CBS program "60 Minutes" aired on Sunday about bonuses bankers are raking in.

"I did not run for office to be helping out a bunch of fat cat bankers on Wall Street," Obama said.

After the meeting with the bankers, scheduled to start at 11:10 a.m. (1610 GMT), Obama will make a public statement about the economy, the White House said.

"What's really frustrating me right now is that you've got these same banks who benefited from taxpayer assistance who are fighting tooth and nail with their lobbyists up on Capitol Hill, fighting against financial regulatory control," Obama added.

Senior White House aide Lawrence Summers said Obama would "have a serious talk with the bankers."

"The country did incredible things for the banking industry," Summers, director of the National Economic Council, told ABC's "This Week" program. "They need to recognize that they've got obligations to the country after all that's been done for them, and there is a lot more they can do."

While seeking cooperation from the banks on issues such as credit availability for small businesses, the White House is also likely to continue its harsh public rhetoric toward the banks. Many Americans blame the banks for the economic crisis that has left the nation with 10 percent unemployment.

Obama, whose public approval ratings are below 50 percent and at the lowest levels of his presidency, is frustrated that some of the public's anger at Wall Street firms is being directed at his administration for its support of the $700 billion financial bailout program begun during the Bush administration.

The Obama administration has said the rescue program was needed to stem the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s and head off a potentially greater calamity in the broader economy.

LOBBYING CAMPAIGN

Still, Obama and his aides have been annoyed by the Wall Street firms' lobbying campaign aimed at thwarting sweeping legislation to tighten oversight of financial firms. Backers of the legislation say it is needed to prevent a repeat of the financial meltdown.

In a victory for Obama, the U.S. House of Representatives last week approved its version of the financial regulatory reform legislation. Before the bill can become law, the slower-moving Senate will need to approve its version, then differences between the two bills will need to be ironed out.

An army of lobbyists for banks and Wall Street firms, whose profits may be threatened, have fought for months to weaken and delay reforms, criticizing what they call an unneeded and costly intrusion on business.

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Obama "wants to have a productive meeting" with the bankers.

"He expects to discuss plans for how they are going to increase lending to small businesses and improve lending practices for homeowners," she said. "He will also speak firmly about the efforts of lobbyists to kill the financial reform efforts that are essential to the long-term health of our financial system."

(Editing by Will Dunham)

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