WASHINGTON - Seeking greater cooperation but with no quick fixes in sight, President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans vowed yesterday to work toward resolving their sharply different views about tax cuts before year's end.
"The American people did not vote for gridlock," Obama said following their meeting at the White House. "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 try to break through their differences by appointing a working group to negotiate a tax cut agreement in short order.
All sides appeared to emerge from the meeting in the same place they started, in terms of their stands on tax cuts, a pending nuclear treaty with Russia and other pressing matters.
But in terms of tone - after a divisive election that left the country soured anew on Washington politics - they seemed to make progress. Both sides sounded upbeat about working together and seeking results.
At one point the president, Vice President Joe Biden and the lawmakers took the unusual step of leaving their aides behind and retreating the president's private dining room for a more intimate 35 minutes of discussion. Without note takers, the meeting was designed to encourage more candid talk.
The president appointed Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Budget Director Jacob Lew to the tax negotiating group. Rep. Dave Camp of Michigan, the top Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, will represent House Republicans and Sen. Max Baucus of Montana, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, will represent Senate Democrats. Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona, the second ranking leader in the Senate, will represent Senate Republicans. Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland will represent House Democrats.
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.