By Jim Kuhnhenn
WASHINGTON — After quarreling for months, President Barack Obama and the top two Republicans in Congress expressed optimism Wednesday about finding a common jobs and energy agenda, prodded by politics to show results in an election year.
Meeting face-to-face for the first time since July, Obama, the Republican leaders and top Democratic lawmakers emerged without the acrimony and crises that have been normal hallmarks of their relationships.
“The president believes that there were some areas where we could find common ground, and frankly I was encouraged,” House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said.
The session, called by Obama, came after bipartisan majorities in Congress passed an extension of a payroll tax cut sought by the president.
“I think there is an indication here that we can get some things done, and we look forward to doing that,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said.
Cooperation is likely on measures that face the least resistance, such as uncontroversial initiatives aimed at helping small businesses raise capital and create jobs.
Carney said elements of a House Republican bill that extends assistance to small businesses “overlap considerably with the president’s priorities.”
Though hardly an all-out thaw in the relationship, the meeting signaled a new emphasis on finding common ground. Driving Republican efforts to find legislative successes are public approval levels for Congress and congressional Republicans in particular that are at historic lows.
And while White House officials believe the clashes with Congress have improved Obama’s standing, they say any legislative accomplishments would accrue to his benefit as well.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the burden now falls on Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
“I hope that the majority leader, who’s responsible for deciding what bills we turn to, will turn to bills that can actually pass and be signed into law,” McConnell said.
Still, Obama and the leaders disagreed on whether the president should grant a permit for a Canada-to-Texas oil pipeline. Obama blocked the Keystone XL pipeline this year, citing uncertainty over the route. The pipeline’s Canadian builder, TransCanada, said Monday it still hopes to build the full 1,700-mile pipeline, and the White House said it would review an application for a new route.
The House Republican bills aimed at small business would remove a Securities and Exchange Commission ban preventing small businesses from using advertisements to solicit investors; eliminate SEC restrictions that prevent “crowdfunding” so entrepreneurs can raise equity capital from a large pool of small investors; make it easier for small businesses to go public by increasing the threshold under which companies are exempt from SEC registration; and raise the shareholder registration requirement threshold from 500 shareholders to 1,000 shareholders.
Underscoring the effort to keep the meeting low-key, the White House didn’t permit photographs of the start of the session.
Attending the meeting were Obama, Boehner, McConnell, Reid, Vice President Joe Biden and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
The meeting contrasts with the hard-line tone the White House took against congressional Republicans after the summer’s debt crisis talks failed to result in a deficit-reduction “grand bargain.” Obama then launched a $447 billion jobs proposal and campaigned in two high-profile bus tours to draw attention to his plans.
Congress approved some elements of his economic agenda, including trade agreements with South Korea, Panama and Colombia. But proposals to create construction jobs and to prevent layoffs of public employees went nowhere, and Obama’s plan to pay for his plan by raising taxes on the wealthy also fell by the wayside.