From NBC's Athena Jones
President Barack Obama announced plans Tuesday for top administration officials to work with members of both parties to break the logjam on extending the so-called Bush tax cuts.
After a long-awaited bipartisan meeting with congressional leaders, Obama announced that he has tasked Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and Budget Director Jack Lew with reaching an agreement with Republicans, who want to see the tax cuts -- set to expire at the end of the year -- extended for everyone.
The White House wants to see the tax relief extended only for individuals making less than $200,000 and couples earning less than $250,000. The administration has argued the country cannot afford to borrow $700 billion over the next decade to pay for tax cuts for those making more.
"I've asked the leaders to appoint members to help in this negotiation process," Obama said in brief remarks to the press after the meeting. "They agreed to do that. That process is beginning right way and we expect to get some answers back over the next couple of days about how we can accomplish our key goal, which is to make sure the economy continues to grow and we are putting people back to work."
Ratifying the new START Treaty with Russia on arms control -- which the president said was "absolutely essential for national security"-- extending unemployment insurance and tax relief measures topped Obama's wish list for congressional action over the final weeks of the year. He did not mention the repeal of the military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy or the Dream Act, both contentious items on Capitol Hill.
In his first public comments after the Thanksgiving holiday on Monday, the president said he hoped today's meeting would mark a "a first step towards a new and productive working relationship" between Democrats and Republicans. The White House originally wanted to host the meeting right after the mid-term election, with the president himself expressing hope that it would spill over into dinner. Instead, it had to be postponed due to Republican scheduling conflicts.
Obama declared himself pleased with how the meeting turned out, calling it "a good start", and urged members of both parties to chose the "best of our ideas over the worst of our politics" as they work to tackle the challenges facing the country. He announced plans for additional bipartisan summits like this one in the future, including at Camp David. But he also said that differences on many issues would likely remain and that reaching agreement would not be easy.
The president's bipartisan deficit commission was also a subject of discussion at today's meeting. Reducing government spending is high on the list of Republican concerns and the commission is due to release a full set of recommendations on how to reduce the budget deficit this week.
Geithner, Lew and Vice President Biden joined Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), incoming Speaker Rep. John Boehner (R-OH), Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD), Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) for the meeting, which lasted nearly two hours.