As another era of divided government looms over Washington, President Obama and congressional leaders met at the White House today for a much-publicized meeting aimed at finding common ground and each side hailed the discussion.
"I just want to say I thought it was a productive meeting, it thought that people came to it with a spirit of trying to work together, and I think it's a good start as we more forward. I think everybody understand that Americans want us to focus on their jobs, not ours," Obama said in a brief statement after the session. For his part, Senate Majority LeaderMitch McConnell said "we had a very frank conversation. Democrats and republicans and president understood what the American people had to say on election day very clearly."
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Just four weeks after the contentious election that gave Republicans control of the House and a strengthened hand in the Senate, the leading officials of the U.S. government sat down for an hour in the Roosevelt Room of the White House--a bipartisan setting fittingly named after both Theodore Roosevelt, a Republican, and Franklin Roosevelt, a Democrat.
A panoply of issues was discussed including extension of the Bush tax cuts due to expire at the end of the year, the START nuclear treaty with Russia, reining in the federal deficit.
The meeting included McConnell, putative House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., putative House Republican Whip Eric Cantor, R-Va., Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., as well as House Conference Chairman Jim Clyburn, D-S.C.
After the meeting, Obama made brief remarks, noting "we are Americans first and we share responsibility for the stewardship of our nation." He warned that "the American people" did not vote for gridlock and that they would "hold all parties accountible."
He declared that before the lame-duck session ended he wanted to insure that taxes would not be raised on the middle class. Obama acknowledged the differences with Republicans who want to extend the Bush tax cuts permanently for all income earners.
The president dubbed that "unfair" and in a move to break the impasse, he appointed OMB Director Jack Lew and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner--who were in attendance at the meeting--to negotiate with both parties in an effort to find a tax package that can win wide support.
On other tax measures, including breaks for college tuition and businesses that hire the unemployed, Obama said he wanted to work to preserve those, too.
Obama said that he had urged passage of the START treaty in the meeting, and noted that the accord has bipartisan support: "We need to get it done." But McConnell said other issues should take precedence and ratification should be delayed until they were resolved.