May 15, 2010 / 10:07 AM / 9 years ago

Obama pushes Wall Street reform with populism

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama on Saturday called for swift Senate action on a sweeping overhaul of Wall Street rules to “secure America’s economic future” as a reform bill moves into the decisive stage next week.

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks about Wall Street reform during a visit to Quincy, Illinois, April 28, 2010. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

With months to go before November’s pivotal congressional elections, Obama pressed a populist theme of helping the “folks on Main Street” as he urged approval of tighter regulations to prevent a repeat of the 2008-2009 financial crisis.

Obama’s Democrats and opposition Republicans are continuing to haggle over a slew of amendments, but the bill could come up for a vote in the U.S. Senate by the end of next week and is widely expected to pass.

“The reform bill being debated in the Senate will not solve every problem in our financial system — no bill could,” Obama said in his weekly radio and Internet address.

“But what this strong bill will do is important, and I urge the Senate to pass it as soon as possible, so we can secure America’s economic future in the 21st century.”

The political climate in Washington has turned in favor of the proposed legislation — which would mark the broadest revamp of the U.S. financial system since the 1930s — and against industry lobbyists trying to weaken any changes.

Republicans acknowledge a need for reform but are seeking to trim back some Democratic proposals they see as government overreach into the private sector.

Still, Republicans appear increasingly reluctant to run the political risk of blocking passage and being painted as aligned with Wall Street in an election year.

The stakes are also high for Obama. With U.S. unemployment just below 10 percent, Americans are anxious about the country’s finances, nudging his approval ratings to around 50 percent and threatening Democratic losses in the mid-term elections.

Seeking to tap into public anger at Wall Street excesses blamed for the recent financial crisis, Obama insisted financial reform would “help stop predatory practices.”

He said reform would bolster community banks that have operated by the rules by creating an “even playing field” with larger lenders and would help safeguard small businesses from ever again being victimized by Wall Street risk-taking.

“We’ll make our financial system more transparent by bringing the kinds of complex, back room deals that helped trigger this crisis into the light of day. We’ll prevent banks from taking on so much risk that they could collapse and threaten our whole economy,” Obama said.

“Put simply, Wall Street reform will bring greater security to folks on Main Street,” he said.

The U.S. House of Representatives approved a Wall Street reform bill in December. Whatever the Senate produces will have to be merged with the House bill before a final package can be sent to Obama to be signed into law, possibly by mid-year.

Editing by Paul Simao

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