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Obama Prods Congress To Unite On Job Creation

President Obama met with House and Senate leaders Tuesday in the Cabinet Room of the White House. From left: House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland, House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Obama.
Pablo Martinez Monsivais
/
AP
President Obama met with House and Senate leaders Tuesday in the Cabinet Room of the White House. From left: House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland, House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Obama.

President Obama met with House and Senate leaders Tuesday to push for consensus on legislation that creates jobs, hoping a series of bills could hurdle past a months-long partisan deadlock in Congress and win quick passage.

"I think it's fair to say that the American people are frustrated with the lack of progress on some key issues," Obama said before the White House meeting, adding that "there should be some areas where we can agree."

"A good place to start, and what I hope to spend a lot of time on in these discussions today, is how we can move forward on a jobs package that encourages small business to hire," he said.

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Following the meeting, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said Republican lawmakers could support some pieces of the jobs package.

"There are some areas of potential agreement," said McConnell, citing a shared interest with the president on nuclear power, clean coal technology, offshore drilling and trade. However, he cautioned that most of the members of his Republican caucus hadn't yet seen the jobs legislation and predicted that its passage was premature.

The nation's unemployment rate stands at 9.7 percent, and Obama has made job creation a top priority. Although unemployment is slightly lower than the 26-year high of 10.1 percent in October, the decline was partly due to a revision in the monthly data released last week.

"I'm confident that if we move forward in a spirit of keeping in mind what's best for the American people, we should be able to accomplish a lot," the president said.

Partisan feuding has stalled action on major issues such as health care, but a series of jobs bills may be within reach because both parties see employment as the most pressing matter for voters.

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Sens. Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) are advocating a tax credit for businesses that hire new workers. It would refund the employer's 6.2 percent share of the Social Security payroll tax to companies that hire employees this year.

Obama has proposed a slightly different way to refund businesses' share of the Social Security tax for new workers. It would grant a $5,000 tax break for businesses that hire a new worker or increase wages or hours for current workers in 2010.

Despite the spirit of bipartisanship Tuesday, Republicans did not spare the president entirely.

House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio chastised the White House for what he called a yearlong "spending binge." After the meeting, he told reporters: "I urged the president, if you're serious about cutting spending, why don't we do it now?"

Obama noted that members of both parties have voiced concern about the federal deficit, though they have very different views about the taxes and spending cuts needed to tackle the issue.

Democrats control both chambers of Congress, but they don't have enough votes to forestall GOP filibusters in the Senate, where Republicans have successfully blocked key administration-backed measures.

In his State of the Union address, Obama promised to hold monthly gatherings with congressional leaders to promote bipartisanship. Tuesday's session was the first of those.

The White House meeting came on the same day that White House economic adviser Lawrence Summers said the job market was stabilizing even though the economy is still far from healthy. "There's no question that the growth rate will fluctuate from quarter to quarter, and I think that everyone has recognized that there were some special factors in the fourth quarter," Summers said, referring to the 5.7 percent economic-growth rate recorded in the final three months of last year.

Summers, director of the White House National Economic Council, also voiced support for the president's proposed "Volcker Rule," which would put new curbs on the size and scope of U.S. banks.

NPR's Scott Neuman and Scott Horsley contributed to this report, which includes material from wire services

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