Obama challenges Cabinet

President also invites leaders to meeting

President Barack Obama sought Thursday to retake the political initiative after a bruising election, inviting Republican and Democratic congressional leaders to meet with him on the economy and jobs. The White House said Obama would consider extending Bush-era tax cuts even for upper income Americans for a year or two.

The Nov. 18 meeting will be closely watched, in particular, for any signs of cooperation between Obama and his two frequent Republican antagonists, incoming House speakerin-waiting John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. They will be joined by the top Democrats in Congress, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Four other lawmakers will attend: Republicans Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia and Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl, and Democrats Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland and Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said no staff would take part in the meeting, which will include dinner. Gibbs said he expects the meeting to be the first of many.

While the White House said the date of the meeting was set, McConnell spokesman Don Stewart said the date and time were still being worked out. Stewart said McConnell is “encouraged” by the chance to meet with Obama to discuss issues including trade, reducing spending and increasing domestic energy production.

During the campaign, Obama called for extending tax cuts for middle-income families. Gibbs said Thursday that Obama continues to believe that extending tax cuts permanently for upper income earners “is something the president does not believe is a good idea” but that he would be open to the possibility of extending the cuts for one or two years.

“It’s clear that the voters sent a message, which is that they want us to focus on the economy and jobs,” Obama told reporters, with Cabinet members at his side. The president said he instructed his Cabinet to make a “sincere and consistent” effort to change how Washington works, something he acknowledges has been a failing of his administration so far.

The president said he wants the bipartisan meeting with congressional leaders to be a substantive discussion on the economy, tax cuts and unemployment insurance. He wants to focus on the busy legislative agenda that awaits Congress when lawmakers return for a lame-duck session. Among the top front-burner issues: renewing Bush-era tax cuts due to expire at year’s end.


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