By Sam Youngman - 11/30/10 06:32 PM EST
President Obama and Republican leaders voiced optimism for a new bipartisan spirit after a White House meeting Tuesday, even as they appeared to edge no closer to a deal on the expiring Bush tax cuts.
The president acknowledged to Republicans that he did not reach out to them as much as he should have in the last two years, according to incoming House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said.
Obama and his Republican adversaries both described the long-anticipated meeting as cordial and the beginning of a new dialogue between the two parties.
In comments after the meeting, Obama lamented the “political incentive” of balking at compromise in the “current, hyper-partisan climate.”
“I was pleased to see several of my friends in the room say, ‘Let's try not to duplicate that,’” Obama said following a longer-than-expected two-hour meeting.
House Speaker-designate John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) described the meeting with Obama as “frank.”
To move the tax debate forward, Obama agreed to assign Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and Office of Management and Budget Director Jack Lew to meet with four representatives of the Congress to find a way to extend tax cuts for the wealthy. The four lawmakers will include a House Republican and Democrat and Senate Republican and Democrat.
The White House wants to extend tax cuts for individuals with income less than $200,000 and families with income less than $250,000, but would end Bush-era tax cuts for wealthier people. The GOP wants to extend all of the tax cuts permanently.
Democrats in Congress are divided, with some favoring a temporary extension of all of the tax rates. But Obama and Democratic leaders are under intense pressure from the left to not extend the tax cuts for wealthier taxpayers.
Obama said he still believes an extension for the richest Americans “would be unwise and unfair.”
“Having said that, we agreed that there must be some sensible common ground,” Obama said. The meetings with Lew and Geithner should help “to break through this logjam,” he said.
Boehner said he is optimistic the meetings with Obama's top economic aides will yield an agreement that includes extending the tax cuts across the board.
Tuesday’s meeting marked the first time Obama and GOP leaders have met since the midterm election, which brought the GOP a House majority in what Obama dubbed a “shellacking” for his party. An earlier meeting two weeks ago was postponed.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) were also at the White House for Tuesday’s meeting.
Obama also pressed Republicans on ratifying New START with Russia before the end of the year, reminding the attendees that the treaty is “absolutely essential to our national security.”
“We need to get it done,” Obama said.