Congressional leaders optimistic after meeting Obama

Fri Nov 16, 2012 9:15pm EST
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By Lisa Lambert and Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican and Democratic congressional leaders emerged from a meeting with President Barack Obama on Friday pledging to find common ground on taxes and spending that would allow them to avert an upcoming "fiscal cliff" that could send the economy back into recession.

The top lawmakers spoke to reporters as a group for the first time in more than a year in what aides said was a joint decision to project a message of unity.

Each side at least signaled a willingness to put "on the table" issues dear to the two parties for decades, agreeing on a framework to discuss both tax and entitlement reform next year.

The two Democrats, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi, the minority leader in the House of Representatives, said they recognized the need to curb spending.

John Boehner, the Republican speaker of the House, and Mitch McConnell, who leads the party in the Senate, said they had agreed to put "revenue on the table" as the two sides enter what are likely to be weeks of tense negotiations before a December 31 deadline.

Starting on January 2, about $600 billion worth of tax increases and spending reductions, including $109 billion in cuts to domestic and defense programs, will begin to kick in if Congress cannot decide how to replace them with less extreme deficit-reduction measures.

Nonpartisan budget forecasters say failure to reach a deal could push the U.S. economy back into recession and drive up the unemployment rate.

Both sides are eager to reassure the public that Washington will not see a repeat of the white-knuckle budget standoffs that spooked consumers and investors last year.   Continued...

U.S. President Barack Obama hosts a bipartisan meeting with Congressional leaders in the Roosevelt Room of White House to discuss the economy, November 16, 2012. Seen (L-R) are U.S. Secretary of Treasury Timothy Geithner, Speaker of the House John Boehner, President Obama, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. REUTERS/Larry Downing