World and Nation

Shorts (left)

Obama Pressing forProtections Against Lenders

President Barack Obama on Tuesday stepped into the middle of a fierce lobbying battle by reinforcing his support for an independent agency to protect consumers against lending abuses that contributed to the financial crisis. The president’s move also signaled a tougher line and a more direct role as Congress weighs an overhaul of banking regulation.

The financial industry and congressional Republicans have singled out the administration’s proposed consumer agency in particular, hoping to greatly weaken if not kill it. With liberal Democrats and Web commentators fighting just as hard for a strong independent office, the issue is becoming a central point in the debate over regulation.

Obama personally weighed in on Tuesday in a one-on-one meeting at the White House with Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, D-Conn., the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee. Reports last week suggested that Dodd might drop the consumer agency from the emerging Senate bill in order to attract support from Republicans and some centrist Democrats on his committee, but Democratic aides disputed that.

Taliban Leaders UnlikelyTo Accept Offer, Gates Says

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said Monday that there could be a surge of Taliban followers willing to reintegrate with the Afghan government of President Hamid Karzai, but that for now an Afghan government reconciliation with the Taliban leadership was unlikely.

Gates, who made his comments on his plane en route to India, was reacting to the announcement on Sunday of a major new Afghan initiative to offer jobs, security, education and other social benefits to Taliban followers who defect. The plan is in the final stages of preparation and has qualified support from U.S. officials, who see luring large numbers of Taliban supporters to change sides as critical to success in Afghanistan.

But Gates, like other U.S. officials, effectively ruled out reconciliation with the Taliban leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar. Karzai has offered repeatedly to talk directly with Omar, with little result, but Afghan officials are now considering removing his name from the United Nations’ list of terrorists. Those placed on the list are barred from international travel and their bank accounts can be frozen.

“I’d be very surprised to see a reconciliation with Mullah Omar,” Gates told reporters. “And I think it’s our view that until the Taliban leadership sees a change in the momentum and begins to see that they are not going to win, that the likelihood of significant reconciliation at senior levels is not terribly great.”

Drug Companies and a Pivotal Senate Race Help Lead the Markets

The possibility that the dynamics of the health care debate could shift helped spur Wall Street higher on Tuesday, overshadowing concerns about the strength of banks and the American consumer.

Investors bought on the prospect that a Republican might win the Senate seat once held by Edward M. Kennedy in Massachusetts, denying Democrats the 60th vote needed to surmount Republican filibusters and advance health legislation.

As voters went to the polls in Massachusetts, shares of pharmaceutical companies surged; the chance that the legislation could stumble reduced concerns that profits would suffer. Merck climbed 2.91 percent, and Pfizer was up 2.62 percent. Rising health stocks pulled the broader market higher, along with gains in materials and utilities shares.