By Mark Felsenthal and Patricia Zengerle
WASHINGTON Nov 16 President Barack Obama said
he and congressional leaders must quickly get down to work to
avert upcoming automatic tax hikes and spending cuts as he sat
down for talks with lawmakers on Friday.
"I think we're all aware that we have some urgent business
to do," the president told reporters.
"We've got to make sure that taxes don't go up on
middle-class families, that our economy remains strong, that
we're creating jobs, and that's an agenda that Democrats and
Republicans and independents, people all across the country
share," he said.
Obama met with congressional leaders and top aides in the
Roosevelt Room of the White House. To the president's right sat
House Speaker John Boehner and to his left was Senate Majority
Leader Harry Reid. Vice President Joe Biden also was at the
table with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Treasury
Secretary Timothy Geithner, the president's Chief of Staff Jack
Lew, and the National Economic Council head Gene Sperling.
Obama repeated his position that the solution to avoiding
the so-called fiscal cliff must balance increased tax revenues
against any cuts to spending or reforms to social safety net
"My hope is that this is going to be the beginning of a
fruitful process where we're able to come to an agreement that
will reduce our deficit in a balanced way, that we will deal
with some of these long-term impediments to growth and we're
also going to be focusing on making sure that middle class
families are able to get ahead," he said.
Adding a touch of levity at the start of what are expected
to be tough negotiations, but also giving a hint of the type of
jostling that lies ahead, the president called reporters back to
congratulate Boehner on his birthday.
"For those who want to wish him a happy birthday, we're not
going to embarrass him with a cake because we didn't know how
many candles were needed," Obama said.
Smiling, Boehner, replied, "Yeah, right."