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Obama, House GOP leaders seek common ground at White House lunch

By Perry Bacon Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 9, 2011; 10:46 PM

President Obama and a trio of top House Republicans largely played down looming clashes at an hour-long lunch Wednesday at the White House, instead discussing issues of potential compromise, such as an education overhaul and free-trade agreements.

In his latest post-election move to emphasize bipartisanship, Obama, joined by Vice President Biden and Chief of Staff William M. Daley, met with House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) in a private dining room at the White House.

In separate news conferences after the meeting, the three Republicans and White House press secretary Robert Gibbs cast the session as a collegial discussion of issues that don't sharply divide the Democratic and Republican parties.

Republicans have said they will support a free-trade agreement with South Korea that the Obama administration negotiated at the end of last year. And the president and congressional Republicans have in the past backed education proposals that emphasize increased accountability for schools whose students persistently get low scores on standardized tests. Next week, Obama plans to begin his push to get Congress to adopt his education proposals.

Gibbs said Obama did not detail his federal budget proposal, which will be released Monday and is expected to include increases in government spending that the GOP opposes.

The Republicans said they noted, but did not highlight, their proposal to cut billions in spending from this year's federal appropriations, which the administration is likely to oppose.

And the two sides did not discuss the health-care law that passed last year. The House GOP is planning a series of votes to cut funding from Obama's signature domestic policy achievement.

"I thought it was pretty clear today that the president wants to try to find some common ground with us," Boehner said. "There are areas that we are going to disagree about, but I think all of us know that there are some issues that we can work on together."

The meeting was Obama's first with House Republicans since a late November session that helped lead to a compromise on tax cuts. It follows several of the president's moves to reach out to those who opposed his party in the fall elections, including a one-on-one lunch with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) on Friday and a speech to the Chamber of Commerce on Monday.

At Wednesday's lunch, the six ate salad, salmon and rice.

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