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Obama, in off-the-record interview, laid out path to fiscal, immigration deals


President Barack Obama suggested he'll be able to achieve a major fiscal reform deal as well as comprehensive immigration reform in his second term, according to his off-the-record conversation with the Des Moines Register.

The White House reversed course on insisting that the president's conversation on Tuesday with the editor and the publisher of the Iowa paper remain off-the-record and allowed the paper to publish a transcript of the conversation.

Mandel Ngan / AFP - Getty Images

President Barack Obama chats with well-wishers October 24, 2012 upon arrival at Quad Cities International Airport in Moline, Illinois.

In the conversation, the president asserted he would be able to get to some unfinished business from his first term if he's elected to a second, while simultaneously arguing that Republican nominee Mitt Romney would have a difficult time meeting all of his commitments.

"It will probably be messy. It won’t be pleasant. But I am absolutely confident that we can get what is the equivalent of the grand bargain that essentially I’ve been offering to the Republicans for a very long time," Obama told the Iowa paper of the upcoming "fiscal cliff," which Obama said he expected to dominate the first six months of next year.

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The fiscal cliff refers to the combination of automatic spending cuts -- particularly to the defense budget -- and tax hikes set to take place on Jan. 1, barring action by Congress. The fiscal cliff is largely the byproduct of legislative stalemate over the past two years, and economists generally agree their combined effect would be disastrous for the U.S. economy.

Obama suggested his grand bargain would offer "$2.50 worth of cuts for every dollar in spending," which he said "credibly" fits within the parameters of the bipartisan, Simpson-Bowles fiscal commission Obama had organized but whose recommendations the president declined to endorse.

The president also suggested immigration reform might come more easily during the next four years, precisely because of the rhetoric Romney and other Republicans had used on the issue.

Obama said:

The second thing I’m confident we’ll get done next year is immigration reform. And since this is off the record, I will just be very blunt. Should I win a second term, a big reason I will win a second term is because the Republican nominee and the Republican Party have so alienated the fastest-growing demographic group in the country, the Latino community. And this is a relatively new phenomenon. George Bush and Karl Rove were smart enough to understand the changing nature of America. And so I am fairly confident that they’re going to have a deep interest in getting that done. And I want to get it done because it’s the right thing to do and I've cared about this ever since I ran back in 2008.

Romney had run to the right of his challengers on the issue of immigration during this year's Republican primary, which contributed to the 45-point deficit versus Obama among Latino voters from which Romney now suffers. The GOP nominee has sought to stoke Latino disappointment in Obama's failure to achieve comprehensive immigration reform, and Romney has vowed to seek immigration reform during his first year, if elected. But Romney hasn't specified the contours of his immigration proposals.

Obama also argued to the Des Moines Register that Romney would have a tough time even reaching those proposals, since he'd be forced to reckon with politically bloody battles over repealing Obama's health reform or Wall Street reform laws, and would almost certainly have to propose a variation of the fiscally conservative budgets authored by his running mate, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan.

Obama said:

And the problem you’ve seen in this campaign is he’s made commitments -- his first day he’s got to introduce a bill to repeal Obamacare. And that's a commitment he cannot back off of. That is a huge, messy fight. His first day in office, he has to make some commitments in rolling back things like the Consumer Finance Protection Board we put in place on Wall Street reform. His budget -- the Ryan budget -- there’s no way that, if he’s president, he can avoid having a showdown on a budget that his running mate introduced, or a variation of it, because he’s committed to cutting spending by 20 percent across the board on discretionary and increasing defense spending by $2 trillion.

The Des Moines Register, one of the most influential papers in Iowa, a battleground state worth six electoral votes on Nov. 6, will publish its endorsement on Saturday evening.