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Obama vows to 'move American people's agenda forward'

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Obama plans talks with party leaders
  • NEW: White House spokesman says he expects multiple meetings to occur
  • Obama wants the Senate to approve an arms control treaty with Russia
  • He'll meet leaders of the outgoing Congress in two weeks, he says
  • The Bush tax cuts will be on the agenda

Washington (CNN) -- President Barack Obama has invited congressional leaders from both parties to join him in a meeting to discuss what to do in the waning days of the current Congress, vowing Thursday that it will "not be just a photo-op."

"I want us to talk substantively about how to move the American people's agenda forward," Obama said.

The meeting is set for November 18, Obama said, following elections Tuesday in which his Democratic Party lost control of the House of Representatives and saw its Senate majority reduced. Current members of Congress keep their jobs until the end of the year in what's known as the "lame-duck" session.

Obama said he wants the meeting to discuss the future of the Bush-era tax cuts that are scheduled to expire at the end of the year. Republicans and Democrats disagree about how to extend them.

The president calls for extending the lower tax rates for income up to $200,000 a year for individuals or $250,000 a year for families. Income above those levels would be taxed at rates from the 1990s, before the tax cuts were enacted in 2001 and 2003.

Most Republicans oppose letting anyone's tax rates go up, including the 2 percent of the population that earns income greater than the thresholds proposed by Obama.

"We have to act in order to assure that middle-class families don't see a big tax spike because of how the Bush tax cuts have been structured," Obama said. "It is very important that we extend those middle-class tax cuts."

The president said businesses also needed "certainty" about the future concerning tax rates.

Republicans argue that the income levels in Obama's proposal would hit too many small business owners and harm job creation. Potential compromises under discussion would raise the income level for the tax cut extensions to $1 million, or temporarily extend all the tax cuts with time limits for higher income levels.

Obama conceded Wednesday that his party had taken a "shellacking" from the voters the day before, and the Republican leader in the Senate has signaled that he wants to roll back what Obama's administration and the Democratic-controlled Congress have done instead of working with them to seek compromises on major issues.

"For the past two years, Democrat lawmakers chose to ignore the American people, so on Tuesday the American people chose new lawmakers," Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, said in a speech Thursday to the Heritage Foundation.

"The White House has a choice: They can change course, or they can double down on a vision of government that the American people have roundly rejected," McConnell said.

In response, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Thursday that any consensus reached in talks between Obama the congressional Republicans would not give everyone what they wanted. Gibbs also said he expected the November 18 meeting to be just the start of discussions, saying: "I anticipate that this is the first of many."

Obama used his brief statement after a Cabinet meeting to highlight his legislative priorities.

He urged the upcoming lame-duck Congress to approve an arms control agreement with Russia, saying it is neither a Republican nor a Democratic issue. The Senate must approve international treaties for them to take effect.

"We have negotiated with the Russians significant reductions in our nuclear arms" in the new START treaty, Obama said.

That has given the United States leverage in seeking increased pressure against Iran's controversial nuclear program, Obama argued, because "people have seen that we are serious about taking our responsibilities when it comes to non-proliferation."

Obama is also planning to meet newly elected governors from both parties, he said. He's invited them to the White House on December 2.

The meeting will be a "terrific opportunity to hear from them ... about what they're seeing, what ideas they think Washington needs to be paying attention to," Obama said.

"They've got very practical problems that they've got to solve," he said, praising their "common-sense approach that the American people are looking for right now."

CNN's Richard Allen Greene and Tom Cohen contributed to this story.

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