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Obama hits Wall Street

From NBC's Athena Jones
QUINCY, IL -- At his last stop on a two-day, three-state tour of the Midwest, President Obama today said that recklessness on Wall Street threatened the dreams and prospects of ordinary Americans. And he applauded the apparent agreement made in the Senate to move financial overhaul legislation to the floor.

After a day spent touring a biofuels plant and stopping by a diner and farm in Missouri, the president gave a wide-ranging speech at a civic center here just blocks from the banks of the Mississippi River -- in a town he visited during the 2008 campaign to help fill sandbags to guard against floods.

Much as he has done throughout the trip, Obama defended steps -- some of them unpopular -- that his administration had taken to get the economy back on track, stressing the health-care overhaul, tax relief for working families and businesses, extending unemployment benefits, and providing much-needed aid to states.

But he had a special message for Wall Street banks he said had used other people's money to gamble on risky investments.

"This crisis we went through, it wasn't part of the normal economic cycle," Obama said, before going on the describe actions on Wall Street that led the economy to the brink of collapse. "They were making bets on, you know, what was gonna happen in the housing market."

"They would create these derivatives and all these instruments that nobody understood," he continued. "But it was basically operating like a big casino, and it was producing big profits and big bonuses for them. But it was all built on shaky economics, and some of these subprime loans that had been given out -- and because we did not have commonsense rules in place -- those irresponsible practices came awfully close to bringing down our entire economy and millions of dreams along with it."

He told the audience he had been calling for better rules on Wall Street since 2007, and he hailed the progress made on the financial regulatory bill in the Senate today, after Republicans -- who voted three times to block debate -- reversed course.

"I'm very pleased that after a few days of delay, it appears an agreement may be in hand to allow this debate to move forward on the Senate floor on this critical issue. And I want to work with anyone, Republican or Democrat, who wants to pursue reforms in good faith."

Obama said the bill would bring derivatives trading "out of the dark alleys into the light of day," and would include strong consumer protections.

"What I don't want is a deal made that is written by the financial industry lobbyists," he said. "I want a bill that's written for you, for the American people."

The president spoke before a friendly crowd that had waited hours to see him. Before the event, about 50 protesters -- many of them self-proclaimed Tea Partiers -- stood outside, some holding the yellow "Don't Tread on Me" flag with the coiled snake and signs railing against "big government."