By JIM KUHNHENN
WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama on Tuesday hailed his meeting with Republican congressional leaders as “a good start” on bipartisan cooperation, saying the public wants an end to political bickering in Washington.
Obama called the talks “productive” and said he’s encouraged that congressional leaders of both parties came to the White House determined to make things better and cut out the partisan infighting that has characterized much of the discourse in the capital in recent times.
Tuesday’s meeting was Obama’s first formal sit-down with Demoratic and Republican lawmakers following his party’s sweeping defeats in the midterm elections. Eight lawmakers – four from each party – took part in the nearly two-hour meeting, along with Vice President Joe Biden and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.
Republican leaders, likewise, complimented the session. But House Speaker-in-waiting John Boehner, R-Ohio, was cautious, saying the two sides in the past have had “nice meetings” that failed to harvest new cooperation.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said the president and members of Congress from both parties agreed at their White House meeting to designate representatives to negotiate a compromise on which Bush-era tax cuts to extend when they expire at the end of next month – and for how long.
But McConnell said that “100 percent” of Republicans, and even some Democrats, are opposed to having a two-tier system after Jan. 1., including the notion that tax rates would be left where they are for middle-class people but raised for the wealthy.
Boehner said he told Obama that “spending more time will help us find common ground.”
Republican leaders held a news conference in the Capitol after the joint meeting – the first of its kind since the GOP recaptured the House and cut into the Democratic majority in the Senate in the Nov. 2 midterm elections.
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