Obama willing to work with Congress in 2012 on taxes, cutting debt

The White House on Tuesday downplayed news reports that President Obama will go it alone with Congress this year.

Two senior administration officials said there’s work to be done with Congress — including work on the deficit and full-year extension of the payroll-tax cut — and Obama will look for opportunities to work together with Congress to improve the economy.

The administration officials said Obama will also be pushing lawmakers to pass some parts of his jobs package that did not win approval in 2011. Anything that hasn’t been signed into law, Obama still wants to sign into law, the officials said.

Last week, news reports suggested that Obama, who saw his approval numbers rise marginally in the fall as he attacked what he portrayed as a dysfunctional Congress, would rely mostly on executive action in 2012.

“Now that he's sort of free from having to put out these fires, the president will have a larger playing field. If that includes Congress, all the better,” Josh Earnest, the White House principal deputy press secretary, told The Associated Press. But, Earnest added, “That’s no longer a requirement.”

At a briefing with reporters on Tuesday, White House press secretary Jay Carney said Obama will "pursue all tracks" and wants to continue working with Congress.

"This is not an either or," Carney said, adding that there is "A lot of that work needs to be done, has to be done with Congress."

Obama "hopes and anticipates that" Republicans will show a willingness to work with him," Carney said.

"We absolutely believe that Congress will do the right thing," and extend the payroll tax, he added.

"But there are more things that need to be done," Carney said. "This country is in crying need of work on its infrastructure."

Still, Carney warned that when Congress refuses to act, "the president's not going to just sit here."

White House officials also said they expected some Republicans, facing tough reelection prospects, to break with their party in the same way that they did last month during the payroll-tax-cut extension stalemate.

At the same time, Obama is also expected to issue a couple of actions each week, continuing the “We Can't Wait” campaign that was launched in the fall to help the economy.

Obama, the officials maintained, is focused on doing his day job and helping improve the economy. The economy — not the his reelection campaign — remains his central mission, they insisted.

Updated at 1:18 p.m.