Obama Targets Insurance Companies, Banks in New York Appearance

By Edwin Chen
Bloomberg News
October 21, 2009


Oct. 21 (Bloomberg) -- President Barack Obama criticized insurance companies and banks as he urged supporters to pressure Congress to back his moves to revamp the health-care system and overhaul financial regulations.

Insurers and the financial industry are resisting changes because they were "doing just fine under the status quo," the president told donors in New York City last night.

Obama spoke at two fundraisers for the Democratic National Committee in the city that is home to many of the financial institutions his administration has made a target because of their opposition to his plan to rewrite industry regulations.

"The financial industry is essential to a health economy and to the well-being of our economy," Obama said. "But we also know we should never again have to face potential calamity because of reckless speculation and deceptive practices and short sightedness and self-interestedness from a few."

Obama's chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, and other administration officials last weekend went on the offensive against financial institutions as part of an effort to keep up momentum for the regulatory changes. They accused the industry of lobbying to weaken the regulatory plan after taxpayer bailouts helped them restore profits and executive bonuses.

'Mutual Obligations'

"When I hear stories about small businesses and medium- sized businesses not being able to get loans despite Wall Street being back very profitably, that tells me that people aren't thinking about their obligations, our mutual obligations, to each other," Obama said at the first of the two fundraisers.

Securities and investment company employees gave $156 million to federal candidates and the political parties for the 2008 election, more than any other industry, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington-based research group. Of that amount 57 percent went to Democrats, the largest percentage the party had received from the industry since the 1990 off-year election.

As Congress drafts new regulations, employees at securities and investment companies again are giving more money to candidates and the political parties than any other industry, according to the Washington-based center. They have contributed $16.9 million through June 30, with 69 percent going to Democrats. Behind them is the real estate industry, which has given $14.7 million, 60 percent to Democrats.

Health-Care Pitch

The president also made a pitch for his health-care proposal, saying, "We are closer than we have ever been to passing health insurance reform." He said Democrats should "stay focused on the goal line."

"Without your help, I can't do it," he said.

The DNC set a goal of sparking Democrats to make 100,000 calls to Congress in support of the health-care overhaul. Hari Sevagun, a spokesman for the DNC, said the number of calls were double the goal by 6 p.m. Washington time yesterday.

So far, only one Republican in Congress -- Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine -- has voted with the Democrats' majorities as three House committees and two Senate panels adopted varying versions of health-care legislation.

Democratic leaders in each chamber now are trying to meld the bills and bring them to floor votes in the coming weeks, with little prospect of garnering any significant additional Republican support. Obama went on the attack against his Republican opponents.

"I believe in a strong and loyal opposition," he said. "But what I reject is when some folks decide to sit on the sidelines and root for failure on health care."

Candidate Support

Earlier in the evening Obama helped raise money for lawyer Bill Owens, the Democratic candidate in a special election to fill the U.S. House seat in upstate New York formerly held by Republican John McHugh. Obama named McHugh as secretary of the Army.

The president is devoting more time to political work as the Democratic Party gears up for gubernatorial elections this year in New Jersey and Virginia and congressional elections in 2010.

Today he's slated to attend a rally for Governor Jon Corzine in New Jersey, who polls show is in a close race with Republican challenger Christopher Christie. Tomorrow he's set to help raise money for Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, who is up for election in 2010, and Connecticut Senator Christopher Dodd, another Democrat seeking re-election next year.

The fundraiser for Owens, who is competing against Republican Dede Scozzafava to represent a district that covers much of northern New York state, was closed to the media and public.

The DNC fundraising was divided between the rally attended by about 2,700 people, with tickets starting at $100, and a dinner for about 200 at which tickets were going for $30,400 per couple, according to the DNC. Organizers were seeking to raise between $2 million and $3 million.

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