President Barack Obama is starting to open up, six years into the job.
"You get a little looser in your last two years in office," he told CEOs at a meeting with the Business Roundtable.
Indeed, the remark itself would never have been made public under the old White House policy of kicking out the press for the all-important Q&As the president regularly has with business leaders and donors. The president spoke at length on a host of issues from trade to taxes to working with Republicans.
In particular, he held out hope the Republicans would work with him on a corporate tax reform package that would yield one-time revenue from repatriating profits for transportation. "There is definitely a deal to be done," he said.
Obama said the business community would probably need to be united even though there would be trade-offs in a package that did away with individual breaks in return for lower rates. He allowed that Republican desires to include individual tax reform might be a hangup, noting his insistence that middle class families not be left with a higher tax burden.
But he said a deal could come together in six to nine months.
As for tax extenders, the president said he was open to another short-term extension but wasn't prepared to sign something that didn't protect middle class tax breaks, like the Earned Income Tax Credit, the child tax credit and the college tuition tax credit.
Obama predicted Republicans would take a few "stabs" at undoing his executive action on immigration, but after failing to succeed, he hoped they would move on and pass an immigration bill he can sign. Ultimately he wants to "solidify" his actions into law. And he said he took GOP leaders at their word that they would not shut down the government.
"No one benefits by the government shutting down," he said.
He showed no second thoughts, either, saying his action was "exactly the right thing to do."
Obama also said it would be tough for Democrats to do piecemeal bills on immigration to help the business community without dealing with immigration more broadly, and said the law limits what he can do on farm workers or H-1B visas.
He said immigration generally has helped the United States versus its competitors, who he said are "getting old."
Obama also had tough language for his own party on trade.
He said his message to Democrats is, "Don't fight the last war." He said he will continue to push Congress for fast-track Trade Promotion Authority, something Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., has opposed.
Obama said companies that wanted to outsource to low-wage countries have pretty much already done so, and now, new trade deals would increase worker rights around the world and increase the ability of U.S. corporations to compete in other countries.
He even spoke positively of reaching a new deal with China, although not with Russia.
He also predicted Vladimir Putin wouldn't change his actions until political pressure in Russia catches up to the damage to its economy from fallout over Ukraine.
Other highlights from the Q&A:
Obama said Republicans are right about 25 percent of the time on over-regulation. He says he believes in cost-benefit analyses, and has worked to get old, outdated regulations off the books. But he said many regulations have made important improvements like clean air and clean water, even though "nobody wants to be regulated."
While he said "it's embarrassing" how fast China can build things relative to the United States, in other ways China has a lot of problems.
"You would not want your kids growing up in Beijing today because they could not breathe," Obama said.
Los Angeles had a similar problem before the Clean Air Act, the president said.
Obama was also asked why he didn't ask Congress to "just pass a bill" raising the gas tax in the lame duck and solve the transportation funding issue.
"I'd potentially take you up on that offer" to raise the gas tax, Obama said. But "in fairness to members of Congress," he said, gas tax votes are "really tough."
Obama also said that while he is confident in being able to roll back Islamic State's gains in Iraq, taking on the terrorist group in Syria was a longer-term challenge because of the civil war in that country.
And on the federal deficit, Obama said he wants to "keep our deficits low" while investing in things like early childhood education and infrastructure.
The White House has touted that the deficit — $483 billion last year — has dropped quickly in recent years and is now below 3 percent of GDP.
It remains to be seen if the new, looser Obama will continue. Josh Earnest was asked by The Associated Press at Wednesday's briefing if the White House would make Q&A's open to the public as a standard practice.
Earnest declined to go that far
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