US & Canada

Obama says talks with Congress leaders 'a good start'

President Barack Obama
Image caption Mr Obama said the talks had been a "good start" on efforts to resolve policy differences

US President Barack Obama has described talks with Republican and Democratic leaders as "a good start" on efforts to resolve policy differences.

After the meeting, Republican House leader John Boehner pledged more talks on extending Bush-era tax cuts.

Also discussed were a pending arms control treaty with Russia and efforts to trim the federal budget deficit.

The meeting was dubbed the "Slurpee" summit following a remark Mr Obama made during the US mid-term polls campaign.

Speaking about efforts to repair the US economy, Mr Obama described Democrats working to "dig the car out of the ditch" while Republicans sat back "sipping on a Slurpee [iced drink]".

'Demanding co-operation'

Emerging from the meeting, which ran longer than the originally scheduled one hour, Mr Obama repeated his call for bipartisan action.

"The American people did not vote for gridlock," Mr Obama said. "They did not vote for unyielding partisanship. They're demanding co-operation and they're demanding progress and they'll hold all of us, and I mean all of us, accountable."

But the meeting yielded no common ground on the chief issue on the table, whether, or how, to extend the soon-to-expire tax cuts pushed through by President George W Bush and the Republicans in 2001 and 2003.

Mr Obama favours extending the lower rates for middle class Americans while letting them lapse for households earning more than $250,000 (£160,854).

But Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said after the meeting that Republicans remain "100%" opposed to a deal that would leave some rates in place while allowing taxes for wealthier Americans to rise.

"We ought to treat all taxpayers the same," he said.

Mr Boehner, the Republican likely to become speaker of the House when the next Congress convenes in January, said four legislators - one from each party from both the House and Senate - would hold talks soon with the White House to negotiate a resolution to the tax issue.

Pay freeze

The president and congressional leaders from both parties also discussed the fate of the New Start nuclear arms reduction treaty Mr Obama signed with Russia in April.

Mr Obama and the Democrats and a host of top former national security officials from both parties have called for the US Senate to ratify the treaty, a step necessary for it to take effect.

But the top Republican handling the issue, Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona, has said it will have to wait until after January when the new Congress is sworn in and Republican numbers are strengthened.

Mr McConnell said after the meeting Senate Republicans want to address the tax issue and other matters first, then if time remains in the lame duck session, it would be up to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to decide whether to take up the treaty.

Also on the agenda was an effort to slash the federal budget deficit, expected to exceed $1.3 trillion this year. On that issue, Mr Obama on Monday announced a pay freeze for federal workers.

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