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Community Bankers Get Obama's Soft Touch

JIM KUHNHENN

WASHINGTON (AP) ¿ This time, no fat cats.

President Barack Obama took his plea for more small business lending to community bankers Tuesday, but his prodding was far gentler than it was with high finance CEOs last week.

The president offered to help ease regulation that bankers say has restricted lending. He praised the small bankers as pillars of their communities. And he listened sympathetically to their pleas for easier access to capital.

"It's fair to say that most of these community banks were not engaged in some of the hugely risky activities that helped to precipitate the financial crisis," Obama said at the conclusion of the meeting with 12 regional bankers and top administration officials.

That's a different tone than last week when he famously called top bankers "fat cats" in a television interview and then told them in a White House meeting that they had a responsibility to make "an extraordinary commitment" to help rebuild the economy.

No wonder. Small bankers have not aggressively fought central elements of his sweeping financial regulation proposal, they don't make as good a populist target as Wall Street's banking chiefs and they are essential to Obama's goal of spurring small business lending.

"The administration recognizes that, truly, community banks are in a different business than the megafirms and the megabanks," said Mark Schroeder, chairman and CEO of German American Bancorp Inc., of Jasper, Ind., and a participant in the meeting.

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