By Steve Holland and Roberta Rampton
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama on Wednesday laid out a business-friendly legislative agenda for next year that hinges on whether he and the new Republican Congress can set aside long-simmering disputes and find common ground.
Obama also spoke one-on-one in the Oval Office with Republican Senator Mitch McConnell, whose party routed Democrats in midterm elections last month and who will become Senate majority leader in January.
Before that session, Obama told the Business Roundtable, a group of chief executives of top U.S. businesses, that he would like to pursue corporate tax reform, free-trade deals and reach agreement on an immigration overhaul to replace his controversial unilateral action last month that loosened immigration policies.
Infrastructure, patent reform and cyber security were other areas Obama held out as possible areas for compromise.
All these items are welcome in the business community, but deep differences exist between Obama and Republicans on tax reform and immigration and the president faces opposition from his own Democrats on free trade.
"The good news, despite the fact that obviously the midterm elections did not turn out exactly as I had hoped, is that there remains enormous areas of potential bipartisan action and progress," Obama said.
While officials gave no details as to Obama's talks with McConnell, the two must overcome deep partisan differences to reach accord. Republicans are still seething at Obama's go-it-alone decision to allow up to 4.7 million illegal immigrants to remain in the country.
McConnell told the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday that Obama had veered left since the election.
“By any objective standard the president got crushed in this election. So I’ve been perplexed by the reaction since the election, the sort of in your face dramatic move to the left. I don’t know what we can expect in terms of reaching bipartisan agreement," he said.
Obama told CEOs he wants to see discussions on tax reform start "early" because he said it could take six to nine months to get a deal.
On immigration, Obama said he thought Republicans would try to "take a couple of stabs at rolling back" his executive actions before they grappled with legislation of their own.
But he made it clear to CEOs that he would not favor legislation that simply dealt with business concerns without addressing the needs of 11 million undocumented people living in the country.
(Editing by David Gregorio)