LA Trade Tech speech: Obama criticizes US companies for lack of 'economic patriotism'

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President Barack Obama on Thursday criticized American companies that seek overseas mergers to avoid paying taxes at home.

Speaking to hundreds of people who had lined up for blocks in the blazing heat at Los Angeles Trade Technical College in South L.A., Obama demanded "economic patriotism" and said some companies have been stashing money overseas in order to get out of paying their fair share.

He was referring to a developing trend by companies to reorganize with foreign entities through deals called "inversions," partly to reduce their tax payments in the U.S.

Though he included a proposal to rein in such mergers and acquisitions in his 2015 budget, Obama's speech marks a new, more aggressive focus on the subject, AP reports:

Obama and congressional Democrats are pushing to severely limit such deals, a move resisted by Republicans who argue the entire corporate tax code needs an overhaul.

The president's remarks came at the tail end of a multi-day fundraising tour on the West Coast.

"I’m really happy to see him doing something other than fundraising. Trade Tech is one of our premiere institutions where so many of our young people get trained," Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) told KPCC. Bass, whose district includes the college, stood outside with ticket holders ahead of the event. 

Miguel Rodriguez, a 45-year-old house painter in Los Angeles, was among those who braved the heat Thursday to hear the president speak.

"He’s very elegant when he speaks," said Rodriguez, who said he heard the president speak at Trade Tech back in 2008, when Obama was still just a candidate.

Asked about the Obama administration’s immigration policies, Rodriguez said, "I’m happy with [Obama] but not the Congress, because they are delaying immigration reform."

Business student Biju Jayaraaj, 44, who has been living in Los Angeles for about a year, told KPCC, "I’m from India. I don’t ever get a chance to see my Prime Minister. Now I get to see a president!"

Asked about his opinion of the president’s role in the battle over the Affordable Care Act, Jayaraaj said, "I think he’s got some guts and stands up for what he believes in."

Though there had been some reports that protestors planned to show up at the event to demonstrate against U.S. policy in the Middle East and increased deportations, there was no sign of any organized disruption.

Obama did receive some heckling as he began to speak, but he handled it with a joke: "I've met that guy before."

Earlier in the day, Obama made a stop at local favorite Canter's Deli to meet with four people who had taken the time to write him letters, according to a White House Press Pool report.

The president surprised diners and staff at the iconic deli in the Fairfax neighborhood, writes pool reporter Seema Mehta of the Los Angeles Times:

The line cooks snapped cell phone pics and fist-bumped with the president, who was wearing a blue shirt and tie with no jacket.

"Hi guys, how are you?" he asked diners.

One man asked him about his basketball game, and Obama replied, "My shot’s broke."

He held his arm up in the air and said, "It’s my elbow. It’s my age. I get the chicken wing."

The diner asked how many shots he could sink out of 10, and Obama replied eight. "But that’s not during a game."

This story has been updated.

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