WASHINGTON — Reveling over a new milestone in his presidency, a triumphant Barack Obama on Wednesday signed into law the most sweeping overhaul of lending and high-finance rules since the Great Depression, adding safeguards for millions of consumers and aiming to restrain Wall Street excesses that could set off a new recession.
The signing capped nearly two years of intense debate over how to avoid a recurrence of the 2008 financial meltdown that buckled the U.S. economy and has left sharp, lasting imprints on the nation's politics and in Americans' homes.
Obama, emphasizing provisions that guard borrowers from abusive lenders, claimed "the strongest financial protections for consumers in the nation's history."
Not everyone agreed. Republicans portrayed the bill as a burden on small banks and the businesses that rely on them and argued that it will cost consumers and actually impede job growth.
The law, approved by a Congress mostly divided along partisan lines, represents the most ambitious effort to clamp down on banks and the financial markets since the Great Depression.
The new rules, however, are only at a midpoint. Banking and market regulators will have up to two years to write many of the new regulations required by the law, extending uncertainty and ushering in a new phase of lobbying by financial firms.
"Regulators will have to be vigilant," Obama said.
The law gives regulators new authority to liquidate large, interconnected financial firms that are failing. It also crates a powerful independent consumer financial protection bureau within the Federal Reserve to write and enforce regulations covering lending and credit.
Republicans have argued that the law will hurt rather than help people still hurting from the recession.
"Millions of Americans are struggling to find jobs, and yet all they see in Washington are Democrats passing massive bills that, at their core, seem to have one thing in common: more job loss," Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said on the Senate floor Wednesday.