“I feel very good about what we were able to talk about in there,” Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) told reporters outside the White House, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Republicans John A. Boehner (Ohio), the House speaker, and Mitch McConnell (Ky.), the Senate minority leader, as well as House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.). “We all know something has to be done. There is no more ‘Let’s do it some other time.’ We’re going to do it now.”
The usually sharp-tongued McConnell even praised Obama for his upcoming trip to Southeast Asia, although it will take the president away from Washington as policymakers rush to reach an agreement to avert $500 billion in tax hikes and automatic spending cuts that threaten to throw the nation back into recession early next year.
“I can only echo the observations of the other leaders, that it was a constructive meeting,” McConnell said. “We all understand where we are.”
Major details — including the overall scope of a debt-reduction package — still have to be worked out. And the group made no progress Friday on their most fundamental point of disagreement: whether to extend the expiring George W. Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent of U.S. households through 2013.
But the leaders expressed optimism about reaching an accord before the cliff hits in January and dispatched staffers to draft a debt-reduction framework to present to Obama after the Thanksgiving break. Pelosi called on her colleagues to set a Christmas deadline for passing legislation to “send a message of confidence to consumers, to the markets.”
U.S. stocks shot up while the leaders were speaking, going from negative to positive territory in a matter of minutes. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 113 points, gaining nearly 1 percent, in the half hour after the meeting ended. (The Dow closed up nearly 46 points, or 0.4 percent.)
The upbeat tone marked a dramatic shift from the sullen relations of recent years, when Obama and a GOP fortified by anti-
government activists clashed repeatedly over spending and taxes. For months, Washington lurched from crisis to crisis as Republicans threatened to shutter the government and prohibit additional borrowing unless Democrats agreed to massive cuts in spending.
In 2011, a potential “grand bargain” between Boehner and Obama collapsed in angry finger-pointing and dueling news conferences. This year, a presidential campaign fueled by hundreds of millions of dollars in negative ads painted Obama as a free-spending redistributionist and the Republican standard-bearer, Mitt Romney, as an out-of-touch corporate robber baron.