POSTED: 5:00 a.m. HST, Nov 30, 2010
WASHINGTON >> A House Republican leader heading into a postelection meeting with President Barack Obama Tuesday said the GOP remains steadfastly opposed to any tax increases.
House GOP Whip Eric Cantor said his party wants to "make sure no one gets a tax hike while we're trying to create jobs in the private sector."
Cantor, who will be House majority leader when the new Congress convenes in January, seemed to co-opt a principal issue set for discussion later when Obama hosts the leadership of both parties. It will be their first formal sitdown since the GOP recaptured control of the House and narrowed the Democratic majority in the Senate in the Nov. 2 elections.
The midmorning meeting came a day after Obama, preempting the Republicans, announced he was proposing to freeze the salaries of some 2 million federal workers for the next two years. The White House talks Tuesday were seen as an opportunity for the two parties to size up each other as they struggle for common ground, not only on taxes but also on a new nuclear arms treaty with Russia.
The Virginia Republican's sentiments were echoed by Arizona's Sen. John McCain. Asked pointblank if Republicans would yield on their resistance to termination of any of the tax cuts enacted during George W. Bush's presidency, he replied, "We don't want to raise anybody's taxes."
In a double-bylined op-ed piece Tuesday in The Washington Post, House Speaker-to-be John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., signaled that any compromises with the White House on spending and tax cuts would have to be on their terms.
"We can work together and accomplish these things, but the White House and Democratic leaders in Congress first will have to prioritize," they wrote. "It's time to choose struggling middle-class families and small businesses over the demands of the liberal base. It's time to get serious."
Cantor said he believes uncertainty about tax policy, particularly in the small business community, is stifling efforts to speed up job creation.
"We're walking in this room with the realization we're not going to agree with the president on everything," he said, "but I do hope we leave this meeting with a resolve to address the economy."
Obama's meeting with House and Senate leaders from both parties — eight altogether — will help define the interaction between the White House and a divided Congress for the next two years.
Obama said Monday he hopes the session "will mark a first step toward a new and productive working relationship, because we now have a shared responsibility to deliver for the American people on the issues that define not only these times but our future."
Despite their political gains, Republicans approached Tuesday's session with some apprehension. Presidents typically gain a public relations advantage by inviting leaders of the opposition party to the White House.
Many Republicans still bristle at the health care summit that Obama called last February. Democrats got more time to make their case than Republicans, and the session yielded no Democratic compromises.
Cantor on Monday accused Obama of engaging in "class warfare." "This country is about making sure everyone has a fair shot," he said in an interview.
Republicans applauded Obama's announcement on the pay freeze. But traditional Democratic allies, including the AFL-CIO, denounced it as shortsighted.
The White House had initially scheduled the meeting for Nov. 18 but rescheduled at the request of McConnell and Boehner. That session was to have concluded with a private dinner. Tuesday's session was expected to last an hour and end before lunch.
"No doubt there are interesting dynamics," said chief White House political adviser David Axelrod. "There are people who say they want to take steps to deal with our long-term debt issues. We'll work with anyone who wants to work with us on that in a productive way."
Cantor was interviewed on CBS's "The Early Show" and NBC's "Today" program and McCain appeared on ABC.