Obama to Wall Street: More Oversight Coming

Oversight of the financial system is going to be much more rigorous and will include steps such as higher capital requirements for large institutions, which are so deeply interconnected that the failure of one could bring about a failure of the entire financial system, President Barack Obama told CNBC Monday.

President Barack Obama interviewed by CNBC's John Harwood
President Barack Obama interviewed by CNBC's John Harwood

"We want to create some circuit breakers here," Obama said. "What we want to do is position our rules in such a way that you don't end up in a situation where your only choice is either financial meltdown on the one hand, or taxpayers having to engage in these huge bailouts."

Obama stressed that oversight is important to the financial system, despite the returned sense of normalcy that has surfaced lately. He worries, he said, that this normalcy could turn into complacency.

"If Washington does not provide the kind of regulatory oversight that's needed to make sure that we've got transparency, accountablity, clear rules of the road, then ironically what you may end up with is the government being even more meddlesome in the markets than it otherwise would have been."

In addition to speaking on the financial markets, Obama touched on a series of other topics:

  • Health Care: The president said that two-thirds of the price tag associated with health care reform will be accounted for by cutting waste out of the system.
  • No More Stimulus Funds: The stimulus program was designed to span two years, and he has a "strong inclination" not to create a second plan.
  • China Trade Dispute: Obama stressed the importance of countries abiding by trade agreements and said he's confident the China dispute won't lead to a trade war.
  • Afghanistan is Not Vietnam: The war against Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups remains a top priority, but he will monitor the dangers of overreach.

Earlier Monday — the one year anniversary of the Lehman Brothers failure — Obama addressed Wall Street on his plans for financial reform, and how big banks will no longer participate in "reckless behavior." He once again stressed his belief in the free market, saying he has "absolutely no interest in having the government maintaining the levels of intervention that we have right now in the financial markets."

On the issue of health care, Obama said that with expanded coverage, hospitals will be able to lower bills, as they'll no longer have to inflate costs to cover uninsured patients, he said. (See the video at left for the entire interview.)

Obama added that nothing else adds to the deficit as much as the rising cost of health care, and reforming the sector could have an immediate impact on lowering the country's debt.

The president said he will do everything in his power to avoid a second stimulus. He added that his administration developed the first plan to span two years because it knew the consumer would continue to be pinched, and he pointed to the positive signs that a recovery is close.

"Most folks believe that we've now turned the corner where we might actually start seeing some economic growth," he said. "We are focused on [the question of] how do we create jobs in this environment without adding to the deficit."

On the recent trade dispute with China, Obama said he still believes in trade agrements, but he also believes in enforcing the rules in these agreements.

While Obama said he wasn't surprised that China was upset, he said the two countries continue to have a strong relationship, and that he's confident that this misstep won't lead to a trade war.

The Crisis: 1 Year Later - A CNBC Special Report - See Complete Coverage
The Crisis: 1 Year Later - A CNBC Special Report - See Complete Coverage

As for the war in Afghanistan, Obama said it's still one of his primary goals to dismantle Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups that pose a threat to the US. Despite the war's unpopularity with many Americans, he said it's not fair to compare the situation to Vietnam.

"You have to learn lessons from history. On the other hand, each historical moment is different," he said. "The dangers of overreach and not having clear goals and not having strong support from the American people — those are all issues that I think about all the time."