UPDATE 2-In his element, Bill Clinton returns to White House

* Tax package discussed during Oval Office meeting

* Clinton says tax deal is best one to be had

* Obama lauds Clinton’s stewardship of the economy
(Recasts with quotes from Clinton, Obama)

By Jeff Mason and Caren Bohan

WASHINGTON, Dec 10 (BestGrowthStock) – Bill Clinton basked in the
spotlight again at the White House on Friday, holding court
with the press and trying to use his popularity to help the
current Democratic president pass a controversial tax deal.

Wearing a green tie and clearly enjoying himself, the
former president made a surprise visit to the White House press
room with President Barack Obama, who spoke briefly, patted
Clinton on the back and announced he had to leave for a
Christmas party.

“I feel awkward being here and now you’re going to leave me
all by myself,” Clinton, not appearing the least bit awkward,
said to Obama. Laughter ensued.

The two men, who have not always had a cozy relationship,
have a lot in common now.

Like Obama, Clinton grappled with crushing losses to
Republicans in congressional elections two years into his
presidency. Like Clinton, Obama is reaching out to the
opposition party and hopes to win re-election to a second
term.

Obama’s ability to pass an $856 billion tax bill may affect
that prospect, and Clinton, who was president from 1993 to
2001, did his best to sell it after their sit-down
.

“I just had a terrific meeting with the former president,”
Obama said. “And I thought, given the fact that he presided
over as good an economy as we’ve seen in our lifetimes, that it
might be useful for him to share some of his thoughts.”

That was Clinton’s opportunity to commandeer the podium.

“In my opinion, this is a good bill, and I hope that my
fellow Democrats will support it,” Clinton said.

He admitted that as a high earner himself he would benefit
from the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans that
Democrats, including Obama, dislike. But with an extension of
unemployment benefits and a cut in payroll taxes, Clinton said
the package was the best bipartisan deal to help the country.

HOLDING FORTH

Then, after Obama’s exit, Clinton held forth, calling on
reporters he knew from the 1990s by name and commenting about
everything from the recent election to Republican efforts to
repeal Obama’s signature healthcare reform law.

One reporter observed he seemed happier giving advice than
governing.

“Oh, I had quite a good time governing,” Clinton responded,
to laughter. “I am happy to be here, I suppose, when the
bullets that are fired are unlikely to hit me, unless they’re
just ricocheting.”

Clinton was known for his strategy of “triangulation,”
which involved showing a willingness to work with Republicans
on issues popular with moderate voters like deficit reduction,
even when those bipartisan efforts angered his own party.

Some Democrats see Obama’s move on the tax cuts as an
example of that strategy.

Obama seems eager to take tips on Clinton’s success. White
House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Obama requested the meeting.

The two men had strained relations in the past, most
notably during the 2008 presidential campaign when Obama and
Clinton’s wife, Hillary Clinton, were locked in a close race
for the Democratic nomination.

The hard feelings eventually abated, especially after Obama
tapped Hillary Clinton as his secretary of state.

The former president noted on Friday he did 133 events to
help Democrats in the 2010 midterm elections.

Will his support for the tax plan help garner votes now
from skeptical Democrats in the House of Representatives?

“I have no idea,” Clinton said.

To help the process of persuasion, he added: “I think it is
enormous relief for America to think that both parties might
vote for something, anything that they could both agree on. And
there is no way you can have a compromise without having
something in the bill that you don’t like.”
(Additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle and Alister Bull;)

UPDATE 2-In his element, Bill Clinton returns to White House