Image: Obama
NBC News
The president speaks following the "Slurpee Summit" at the White House in Washington.
updated 11/30/2010 2:10:22 PM ET 2010-11-30T19:10:22

Reaching no quick fixes, President Barack Obama and Republican leaders in Congress on Tuesday vowed to seek a compromise on their sharply different views about tax cuts before year's end.

"The American people did not vote for gridlock," Obama said following the session. "They did not vote for unyielding partisanship. They're demanding cooperation and they're demanding progress and they'll hold all of us, and I mean all of us, accountable"

There was no consensus on whether to keep Bush era tax cuts in place for the middle class and wealthy alike. But the eight bipartisan congressional leaders and the president agreed to break through their differences by appointing a working group to negotiate a tax cut agreement.

The president appointed Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and budget director Jacob Lew to the group while party leaders will appoint their own representatives. Obama said he expects to hear back from them within the next few days.

The meeting lasted two hours, one hour longer than originally planned. The first 90 minutes included congressional aides, but Obama and the elected officials retreated into the president's private dining room for a more intimate 35 minutes of discussion.

The president said that while differences remain over how to address the expiring tax cuts, there was "broad agreement" that both parties can work together to resolve the issue.

"We agreed that there must be some sensible common ground," Obama said.

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Obama said he also planned to hold more sessions with lawmakers, a point that Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia took note of and applauded. "I was encouraged by the president's remarks regarding his perhaps not having reached out enough to us in -- in the last session," Cantor said, "and that this meeting was the beginning of a series in which he hoped that we could work together in a different fashion for the benefit of the American people, given the problems that we face."

Obama promised to invite the leaders to Camp David, an offer that he said especially pleased Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who pointed out that in his 28 years in Congress he had never been to the presidential retreat in the mountains of northern Maryland.

Obama said he also emphasized the importance of ratifying a new nuclear treaty with Russia, a treaty that he said has "broad bipartisan support" from national security advisers and secretaries of Defense and State.

"It's absolutely essential for our national security," Obama said. "We need to get it done."

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said after the meeting that Senate Republicans first wanted to address the expiring tax cuts and pending spending legislation before tackling other issues. He also said the GOP remains "100 percent" against any tax increases and said they oppose any policy of leaving tax cuts in place for middle class people while raising rates for the wealthy.

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House Speaker-in-waiting John Boehner called it a "nice meeting," but said the hard work of achieving bipartisan agreement still lies ahead.

While Obama called the meeting extremely civil, he also spoke of the political realities that often emerge from such meetings — how the leaders of both parties typically fall back on talking points, go before the cameras, try to win the news cycle and paint the other side as unyielding and uncooperative.

"I think there was recognition today that that's a game we can't afford. Not in these times," Obama said. "In a private meeting that I had without staff — without betraying any confidences — I was pleased to see several of my friends in the room say, 'Let's try not to duplicate that.' "

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Video: After summit, Obama, GOP says compromise possible

  1. Closed captioning of: After summit, Obama, GOP says compromise possible

    >>> for the first time since the election it changed the balance of power in washington , president obama met today with the new republican leadership and with the democrats who are getting used to the idea of being the minority in the house. our chief white house correspondent chuck todd was there for today and he's with us to tell us how it went. chuck, good evening.

    >> reporter: good evening, brian. that's right. it was nearly a month since voters sent the message of change to washington . and finally, washington 's leaders got together in the same room here at the roosevelt room at the white house to sit down and have a nearly two-hour meeting, top of the agenda? how to break. bipartisan impasse on dealing with those bush dasher are tax rates . after the highly anticipated meeting, both sides hailed the session as productive with president obama and republican speaker to-be john boehner almost speaking from the same script.

    >> the american people want us to focus on their jobs, not ours.

    >> the american people want us to create jobs and to cut spending.

    >> we have two parties for a reason. there are real philosophical differences.

    >> we believe in different things about the appropriate role of federal government .

    >> reporter: at the top of today's agenda, the so-called bu bush- era tax cuts . to have a small six-person working group , negotiate on their behalf, a suitable compromise but the white house seemed unwilling to back one democratic idea, raising the middle-class tax threshold from $250,000 to those americans making more than $1 million.

    >> i think the president has restated the case today for a $250,000 threshold.

    >> reporter: besides the tax rates , the president once again, pushed for senate ratification of s.t.a.r.t., the u.s. russian nuclear arms reduction treaty.

    >> it's absolutely essential to national security . we need to get it done.

    >> reporter: the senate's top republican was noncommittal.

    >> we're wrestling with a lot of other matters that may have some level of importance but aren't in the same category.

    >> reporter: also discussed the anticipated release of the bipartisan debt commission plan previewed today but the two chairmans.

    >> the problem is real. the solutions are painful and there are no easy choices.

    >> america, you have a serious problem. and time is short to address it.

    >> reporter: one other topic that came up the president brought it up, what to do about expiring unemployment benefits for millions of americans that expire tonight, brian. i'm told by some congressional democrats and expect nothing in the next few days but it could be wrapped up into a bigger compromise on those bush tax cuts .

    >> chuck todd at the white house , thanks for that.

Explainer: 'Slurpee Summit' attendees

  • It’s been dubbed as the “Slurpee Summit,” named after the drink that the president said Republicans were standing by sipping while Democrats struggled to get the economy going.

    “I don't know about a Slurpee. How about a glass of merlot?” Boehner replied when asked about the meeting, meant to be a post-midterm discussion on bipartisanship.

    Here's a look at the summit's attendees ... and what they've recently said about working with the other side of the aisle.

  • President Barack Obama

    Image: Obama
    Charles Dharapak  /  AP
    President Barack Obama speaks at the University of Indonesia in Jakarta, Indonesia, Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2010. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

    “... The most important contest we face is not the contest between Democrats and Republicans. In this century, the most important competition we face is between America and our economic competitors around the world. To win that competition and to continue our economic leadership, we're going to need to be strong and we're going to need to be united ... As I said before, no person, no party has a monopoly on wisdom. And that's why I'm eager to hear good ideas wherever they come from, whoever proposes them. And that's why I believe it's important to have an honest and civil debate about the choices that we face.” (Nov. 3)

  • Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid

    Image: Reid
    Saul Loeb  /  AFP - Getty Images
    Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

    “I think the main message that we should have received last night ... is that the people of Nevada and the American people want us to work together ... Now it's time to get back to work, do what is needed to re-right the economy and create jobs ... I'm hopeful and confident that when the dust settles that the Republicans will no longer want to stop everything and we'll work together.” (Nov. 3)

  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (outgoing)

    Image: Pelosi
    Alex Brandon  /  AP file
    House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

    I believe that we established a great foundation ... Now, it remains to the Republicans and Democrats to work together to build on that, and go forward ... We believe that the fundamentals are in place, that job creation didn't come soon enough, but it is on the way if we can accelerate that ... Many of our solutions have been market-oriented, have been private sector initiatives, that have had the support of the Republicans in the past. And so, hopefully, again, we can find common ground based on public incentive, but a private role ... John Boehner is a very amiable person. He has many friends in the Congress, and hopefully, he can continue, he will continue to have those relationships as he goes forward, and that his conference will allow him to do that.” (Nov. 3)

  • House Minority Leader John Boehner (incoming Speaker)

    Image: Boehner
    Jonathan Ernst  /  Reuters
    House Republican Leader John Boehner.

    “Last night, the president was kind enough to call me. We discussed working together on the American people's priorities, cutting spending, creating jobs. And we hope that he will continue to be willing to work with us on those priorities. But, as I said last night, the new majority here in Congress will be the voice of the American people, and I think we clearly expressed that last night. We're going to continue and renew our efforts for a smaller, less costly and more accountable government here in Washington, D.C.” (Nov. 3)

  • Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell

    Image: McConnell
    Michael Reynolds  /  EPA
    Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell.
    “I think the group that should hopefully get the message out of yesterday's elections is our friends on the other side of the aisle. And we hope that they will pivot in a different direction, work with us on things like spending and debt, and trade agreements, and nuclear power, and clean-coal technology and other things the president has said that he's for that most of my members are for ... It seems to me the best strategy for the other side would be to listen to the voters yesterday. They made a clear statement about what they'd like to see done. If the president comes in our direction, obviously, we want to make progress for the country over the next two years.” (Nov. 3)

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