WASHINGTON — Reveling in victory, President Barack Obama on Wednesday signed into law the most sweeping reform of financial regulations since the Great Depression, a package that aims to protect consumers and ensure economic stability from Main Street to Wall Street.
The law, pushed through mainly by Democrats in Washington's deeply partisan environment, comes almost two years after the infamous near financial meltdown in 2008 in the United States that was felt around the globe. The legislation gives the government new powers to break up companies that threaten the economy, creates a new agency to guard consumers in their financial transactions and puts more light on the financial markets that escaped the oversight of regulators.
Obama described them all as commonsense reforms that will help people in their daily life — signing contracts, understanding fees, understanding risks.
He went so far as to call the reforms "the strongest consumer protections in history." The president added to a burst of applause: "Because of this law, the American people will never again be asked to foot the bill for Wall Street's mistakes."
Republicans portray the bill as a burden on small banks and the businesses that rely on them and argue it will cost consumers and impede job growth. Republican Rep. Darrell Issa of California called Obama's bill-signing a "charade" that ignored the root causes of the financial crisis. [See which industries donate the most money to Issa.]
The president said otherwise. He argued that a crippling recession was primarily caused by a breakdown in the financial system that cannot be allowed to happen again. "I proposed a set of reforms to empower consumers and investors, to bring the shadowy deals that caused this crisis into the light of day, and to put a stop to taxpayer bailouts once and for all," Obama said to supporters. "Today, thanks to a lot of people in this room, those reforms will become the law of the land."
In a note of irony, Obama signed the bill with great fanfare in the massive Ronald Reagan Building, named after a president who championed deregulation. The president was joined by scores of consumer advocates, state and local government officials, business owners and executives, and members of Congress who supported the bill. Obama singled out for praise Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., and Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., who shepherded the bill through Congress.
In the midst of a heated midterm election season for many lawmakers, Obama sought to put the complex law in consumer-oriented terms for the nation. He said it would help root out fine print and hidden fees for people, and provide deeper scrutiny of the sophisticated financial transactions on Wall Street.