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Tuesday
Nov302010

The President's Closed-Door Meeting with Congressional Leaders

Photo Courtesy - Pete Souza | The White House(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama started the meeting with the bipartisan congressional leadership Tuesday morning by telling Republicans he hasn’t “reached out as effectively as I should have. Let’s have honest cooperation, not just photo ops.”

He congratulated incoming Speaker and current House GOP Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, and soon to be House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., the current House GOP Whip.

They sat in the Roosevelt Room of the West Wing: the president, Boehner, Cantor, Vice President Biden, Secretary of the Treasury Tim Geithner, Office of Management and Budget Director Jack Lew, outgoing Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., current House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Assistant Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Senate GOP Whip Jon Kyl, R-Ariz.

They went around the room.

Offering a status report on the economy, Secretary Geither said that the economy is growing at about a rate of 2-2.5 percent, but it’s still not very strong. The question is whether job growth will be enough. He acknowledged some risk of a double-dip recession, but said that was largely because Europe is currently “a mess.”

National Economic Council director Larry Summers said unemployment claims are dropping. The last jobs report was not terrific, but was better than we have seen.

The conversation also focused on the Bush tax cuts.

“I would love it to not tax anyone,” the president said, suggesting that deficit reduction and economic growth and taxes may not work well if tackled at the same time. If nothing too drastic is done as the economy comes out of recession in 2012, tougher debt reduction measures can be taken in 2013, followed by a more aggressive approach with entitlement spending.

He pushed for Bush tax cuts for those earning under $200,000 a year/$250,000 per family to be extended, and suggested that if Republicans disagree they should “decouple” Bush tax cuts for wealthier Americans from those for those in lower brackets, after which Congress can debate tax cuts for those with  higher incomes.

“That way we can achieve 98 percent of what we agree on,” the president proposed, adding the other tax cuts that he supports extending including the AMT and college tax credit. He pushed an extension of Unemployment Insurance.

The president then suggested that the House and Senate Democrats and Republicans each assign one representative to begin negotiating tax cuts with Geithner and Lew.

Of START, the president said later in the meeting, “This needs to get done.”

He noted that the U.N. Security Council would not have gone along with sanctions against Iran for its nuclear program if the Russians hadn’t come along. The challenge is to turn Russia more towards the West.

“This is worth doing on its merits,” the president said, “and it’s absolutely vital to our national interest.”

On the debt commission, President Obama urged the group to begin discussing what each others’ bottom lines are and to set up a process for implementation of any agreed-upon recommendation.

The group later dispatched to the dining room off the Oval Office, shedding all staffers -- including Geithner, Lew and Summers -- to talk more candidly. President Obama said the group should meet again after the New Year. Reid said he’d never been to Camp David, so the president suggested that the meeting be held there.

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