Seeking to bridge a deep divide on tax cuts, President Obama and congressional Republicans said they will form a short-term task force to try to come up with a compromise on extending the Bush-era tax breaks, and to report back within several days.
Punting to a task force was the key agreement struck by Mr. Obama and ascendant Republicans at their first meeting since the Nov. 2 elections, which delivered huge victories to the GOP. Both sides said the meeting produced good promises of cooperation, but they said they’ll wait to see if each other follows through.
“We had a very nice meeting today. Of course, we’ve had a lot of very nice meetings. The question is: Can we find the common ground the American people expect us to find?” said Speaker-designate John A. Boehner of Ohio, the House Republicans’ leader.
Mr. Obama said he had tapped his Treasury secretary and budget director to negotiate with Republicans, and House Republicans named their ranking member of the Ways and Means Committee to be their point man. Senate Republicans had not named their person.
The president said there is now pressure on both parties to break the stalemate he has said dominated the last two years, during which Democrats pushed through a giant health insurance overhaul, rewrote the rules for Wall Street and passed the $814 billion stimulus.
“The American people did not vote for gridlock,” Mr. Obama said. “They’re demanding cooperation, and they’re demanding progress, and they’ll hold all of us — and I mean all of us — accountable for it.”
Both sides agreed the meeting was productive, but had little concrete to show for it other than the agreement to try to find a deal on tax cuts.
Republicans want to see the 2001 and 2003 Bush tax cuts extended in full, and permanently. Democrats, though, are more divided, with Mr. Obama and his party’s leaders in Congress wanting the top-tier tax cuts to expire, while many rank-and-file Democrats want at least a short-term extension of all the tax cuts.
Democrats balked at bringing the issue to the floor before the election, fearful of putting vulnerable lawmakers on the spot just before facing voters. But the ensuing election results haven’t changed the rhetoric much.
House Minority Whip Eric Cantor said Mr. Obama acknowledged to the Republicans that he had not reached out enough to them during the last two years, and the leaders said they think more face time can only be a good thing.
“I think the spending more time will help us find some common ground,” Mr. Boehner said.
But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell also sounded a note of caution about the public’s expectations, pointing to the fact that voters regularly choose to divide power between Democrats and Republicans.
“Some of these periods when you have divided government have been quite productive. I think of the second Clinton administration with welfare reform, a balanced budget, with trade agreements,” the Kentucky Republican said.
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