President Barack Obama acknowledged the deep partisan divisions gripping Congress, but he urged Republican and Democratic leaders Tuesday to cooperate on legislation that creates jobs.
"There should be some areas where we can agree and we can get some things done, even as we have vigorous debates on some of those issues that we don't agree on," Obama said as he met in the White House's Cabinet Room with the top House and Senate leaders of both parties, plus numerous aides. It was the first time in two months that GOP leaders met with him in the White House.
After the meeting, the top Republican in the Senate told reporters that GOP lawmakers could support some pieces of jobs package.
"There are some areas of potential agreement," Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said.
He cited Republicans' and Obama's shared interests in nuclear power, clean coal technology, offshore drilling and the completion of languishing trade deals.
McConnell, R-Ky., cautioned, though, that most of the members of his Republican caucus hadn't yet seen the jobs legislation and predicting passage was premature.
The president said Americans are frustrated by partisan impasses, and he urged lawmakers to keep the public's needs uppermost in mind.
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.
Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer of New York and GOP Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah 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 expressed openness to the idea, although he proposed a different mechanism for refunding the employer's 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. The incentive would be tailored to appeal mainly to small businesses.
Obama said he also hopes the two parties can work together to trim the federal deficit, but that has proven extremely difficult in recent years.
Republicans agree, although their top member in the House sparred with Obama while meeting with reporters in the White House driveway.
"The American people know that Washington has been on a spending binge now for over a year," said House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio. "I urged the president, if you're serious about cutting spending, why don't we do it now?"
Democrats control both chambers of Congress, but they cannot stop a Senate filibuster of bills if all 41 Republicans stand together.
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