* Obama calls for both parties to help reduce deficit
* Republicans consider joining deficit commission
By Jeff Mason
WASHINGTON, Feb 9 U.S. President Barack Obama
sought common ground with Republicans on Tuesday over his top
priorities of job creation and deficit reduction, winning hints
of support in both areas but a rebuke on healthcare reform.
Obama, a Democrat, has been forced to work more closely
with Republicans since an election in Massachusetts in January
deprived his party of its "super majority" in the Senate.
As lawmakers eye November elections that could change the
balance of power in the U.S. Congress further, the president
sought to engage the opposition on shared priorities, while
accusing them of sometimes prioritizing politics over policy.
The president showed evidence of a more focused, retooled
strategy after his roughly 90-minute meeting with congressional
Republican and Democratic leaders at the White House.
Rather than calling for sweeping measures to boost jobs --
his top priority in 2010 -- Obama said "incremental steps" may
be necessary to get initial job-boosting initiatives passed.
"I think that it's ... realistic for us to get a package
moving quickly that may not include all of the things I think
need to be done," Obama said during an impromptu press
conference at the White House.
"It may be that that first package builds some trust and
confidence that Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill can
work together," he said.
Republican leaders told reporters after the meeting they
saw a basis for support from both parties on trade, nuclear
power and offshore drilling. But they called for wide-ranging
legislation to reform healthcare to be scrapped.
Obama's first year in office was characterized by sweeping
proposals on healthcare, climate change and financial reform
that are all still pending in Congress. Meanwhile, the economy
-- though improving -- is still a top concern for U.S. voters.
The economy grew by a brisk 5.7 percent year-on-year in the
fourth quarter of 2009 and unemployment dipped to 9.7 percent
in January. But the jobless rate remains historically high and
the White House wants additional stimulus on top of a $787
billion emergency spending package Obama signed last year.
JOBS, JOBS, JOBS
Obama said one area where both parties could agree was
eliminating capital gains taxes for small businesses. He said
he hoped all sides would also support a way to get more capital
to community banks lending to small businesses.
The House of Representatives passed a $155 billion jobs
bill in December but the Senate has yet to act.
Senate Democratic leaders unveiled a set of job-creating
ideas last week and said they would solicit Republican input
before moving ahead with legislation.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid hoped to introduce a bill
on Monday and pass it by the end of the week, but he has been
delayed by a severe snowstorm that has prevented many lawmakers
from coming to work.
A jobs bill that could go through the Senate would extend
soon-to-expire jobless payments, healthcare subsidies for the
unemployed and highway-funding programs, according to the text
of the bill obtained by Reuters. [ID:n N09101879]
"Frankly, it is not ready yet," Senate Republican leader
Mitch McConnell told reporters after the meeting with Obama,
referring to a jobs bill. "Most of my members have not seen it
yet. We're certainly open to it and ... there is a chance we
can move this forward on a bipartisan basis."
In one potential sign of conciliation, House Republican
leader John Boehner said the party was mulling appointing
members to Obama's proposed bipartisan deficit commission.
Obama plans to issue an executive order to set up the
commission to study options on spending and taxes after
lawmakers failed to create a congressional panel on the issue.
Republican leaders, however, did not budge on Obama's plans
to reform the healthcare industry, calling on Democrats to
scrap current versions of the bills and start over.
(Additional reporting by Alister Bull, Ross Colvin, Steve
Holland, Matt Spetalnick and Andy Sullivan; Editing by Cynthia