WASHINGTON – Reaching no quick fixes, President Barack Obama and Republican leaders in Congress on Tuesday vowed to seek a compromise on their sharply different views about tax cuts before year's end.
"The American people did not vote for gridlock," Obama said following the session. "They did not vote for unyielding partisanship. They're demanding cooperation and they're demanding progress and they'll hold all of us, and I mean all of us, accountable"
There was no consensus on whether to keep Bush era tax cuts in place for the middle class and wealthy alike. But the eight bipartisan congressional leaders and the president agreed to break through their differences by appointing a working group to negotiate a tax cut agreement.
The president appointed Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and budget director Jacob Lew to the group while party leaders will appoint their own representatives. Obama said he expects to hear back from them within the next few days.
The meeting lasted two hours, one hour longer than originally planned. The first 90 minutes included congressional aides, but Obama and the elected officials retreated into the president's private dining room for a more intimate 35 minutes of discussion.
The president said that while differences remain over how to address the expiring tax cuts, there was "broad agreement" that both parties can work together to resolve the issue.
"We agreed that there must be some sensible common ground," Obama said.
Obama said he also planned to hold more sessions with lawmakers, a point that Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia took note of and applauded. "I was encouraged by the president's remarks regarding his perhaps not having reached out enough to us in -- in the last session," Cantor said, "and that this meeting was the beginning of a series in which he hoped that we could work together in a different fashion for the benefit of the American people, given the problems that we face."
Obama promised to invite the leaders to Camp David, an offer that he said especially pleased Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who pointed out that in his 28 years in Congress he had never been to the presidential retreat in the mountains of northern Maryland.
Obama said he also emphasized the importance of ratifying a new nuclear treaty with Russia, a treaty that he said has "broad bipartisan support" from national security advisers and secretaries of Defense and State.
"It's absolutely essential for our national security," Obama said. "We need to get it done."
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said after the meeting that Senate Republicans first wanted to address the expiring tax cuts and pending spending legislation before tackling other issues. He also said the GOP remains "100 percent" against any tax increases and said they oppose any policy of leaving tax cuts in place for middle class people while raising rates for the wealthy.
House Speaker-in-waiting John Boehner called it a "nice meeting," but said the hard work of achieving bipartisan agreement still lies ahead.
While Obama called the meeting extremely civil, he also spoke of the political realities that often emerge from such meetings — how the leaders of both parties typically fall back on talking points, go before the cameras, try to win the news cycle and paint the other side as unyielding and uncooperative.
"I think there was recognition today that that's a game we can't afford. Not in these times," Obama said. "In a private meeting that I had without staff — without betraying any confidences — I was pleased to see several of my friends in the room say, 'Let's try not to duplicate that.' "