President Barack Obama met privately over lunch with Democratic and Republican congressional leaders, the first such session in seven months, seeking to work on an election-year economic agenda.
The talks today were “constructive and cordial,” spokesman Jay Carney said at a White House briefing. House Speaker John Boehner told reporters later he was “encouraged” and hoped Democratic leaders would consider energy and jobs bills that he said have bipartisan support.
Boehner, an Ohio Republican, said he pressed Obama to allow construction of an oil pipeline from Canada that Republicans and some Democrats say will create jobs. Boehner said the president suggested agreement may be found on Republican bills aimed at creating jobs that have passed the House.
“We offered to work with the president on some of those bipartisan bills,” he said.
Vice President Joe Biden joined the lunch with Boehner, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky in the president’s private dining room.
Neither side said whether specific goals were reached or timetables set, though Boehner said the tone was conciliatory.
McConnell told reporters the talks were “very positive.” A statement issued by his office said there may be some movement on House-passed jobs bills “that have been gathering dust in the Senate.”
The meeting, initiated by the White House, lasted a little more than an hour. It was Obama’s first with Republican and Democratic leaders from the House and Senate since a July 23 event at the executive mansion on the debt and deficit talks.
Carney told reporters at the White House “there is reason to hope” that the conventional wisdom of nothing happening this year “is wrong.” Talks will continue, he said.
Efforts to develop a legislative road map may be difficult. That’s because few lawmakers from either party expect much to be accomplished before the Nov. 6 general election. A White House spokesman, Josh Earnest, said Dec. 31 that the full-year extension of a payroll tax cut, which Obama signed Feb. 22, was the last “must-do” legislation before November.
The administration and congressional Republicans remain at odds on such issues as Obama’s economic proposals, energy policy and the budget. Just hours before today’s meeting, McConnell criticized the president for rejecting, for now, a permit for TransCanada Corp.’s Keystone XL pipeline.
“Whether it’s high gas prices, or government regulations, or higher debt, the American people are tired of bearing the burden so this president can build an economy in which Washington calls all the shots,” McConnell said on the Senate floor.
Carney said calls to approve the Keystone pipeline “are insulting” because “there is no permit to approve.”
TransCanada yesterday told the State Department that it will submit an application for a route from the Canadian border to Steel City, Nebraska, Hillary Clinton said today.
“We take very seriously the need to increase our supply” of oil, she said.
Carney said any politician who says construction of the full Keystone pipeline will lower gasoline prices, at least in the short term, “is blowing a lot of smoke.”