WASHINGTON - Sounding a friendly tone to the nation's community bankers, President Obama yesterday said the White House would seek to cut bureaucratic restrictions so local lenders could help businesses seize "enormous opportunities" for growth after bleak times.

"We feel very optimistic that the worst is behind us," the president declared after meeting with heads of a dozen small and community banks.

The event, among the final acts of business for Obama before he leaves for a Christmas vacation in Hawaii, follows a similar meeting the president held at the White House last week with executives of some of the nation's biggest banks. But the tone was different this time.

Obama had implored those bankers to help keep the fragile recovery from faltering by increasing lending to small businesses and supporting a rewrite of financial regulations.

Yesterday, with the smaller lenders, he rallied behind them.

Obama said his administration did not have direct influence over independent regulators but would still seek to spotlight cases in which restrictions may have become too tight on community banks, causing the pendulum to swing too far in the direction of not lending. A key cause of the nation's economic crisis last year was risky loans made by banks, so many virtually stopped making loans.

Obama pledged that the White House would keep working in the months ahead to spur the lending needed to help businesses hire.

Obama made a point to say the community lenders were largely not responsible for the risky behavior that helped imperil the U.S. financial system.

There are about 8,000 small and community banks with assets of less than $5 billion, most of them with assets of no more than $1 billion. They are important to the Obama administration because they make more than 50 percent of small business loans under $100,000.