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Obama, Republicans Don't Find Much Common Ground

President Barack Obama talks with Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., at the conclusion of a meeting with bipartisan Congressional leadership in the President's Private Dining Room, Nov. 30, 2010. Listening at right are Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-KY, Republican Leader; Sen. Jon Kyl, R-AZ, Republican Whip; and Sen. Harry Reid, D-NV, Majority Leader. White House
Putting the traded barbs and insults of the 2010 campaign behind them, President Obama launched a search for "common ground" with Republican congressional leaders.

"I'm happy with how the meeting went," said the president in a statement after a two hour session that also included top congressional Democrats.

The participants seemed pleased and even surprised they could be civil with one another after nearly two years at each other's ideological throats.

Mr. Obama said he felt everyone came to the meeting in a "spirit of trying to work together."

Republican leaders John Boehner and Mitch McConnell said the discussion was "frank" and "useful" and there was reason to be "optimistic."

Still, the meeting produced nothing close to agreements on any of the major policy matters that still divide the White House and the Republicans in Congress.

TAXES: The two sides remain vehemently at odds over extending the Bush-era tax cuts. Mr. Obama insists they be extended only for middle class earners; Republicans remain adamant that all taxpayers get the extension regardless of income. They did agree to form a panel of negotiators to see if some compromise might be reached before year's end.

START: Mr. Obama wants the Senate to ratify the new strategic arms treaty with Russia before Dec. 31, but key Republicans say there's too much other business and there may not be time. Mr. Obama calls it "absolutely essential to our national security." Republicans say there's no rush.

FUNDING: Government funding runs out at the end of the week. Congress has to extend it to keep the government from shutting down.

UNEMPLOYMENT: Federal unemployment benefits beyond 26 weeks expire Tuesday. The White House says benefits have to be extended right away. Republicans oppose adding the costs to the deficit and national debt and demand the administration come up with a way to fund the extensions.

DON'T ASK, DON'T TELL: Now that the Pentagon has released its review of the impact of letting gay and lesbian military personnel serve openly, Mr. Obama has called on the Senate to follow the House lead and repeal the policy before the end of the year.

DREAM ACT: The administration sees it as a step toward comprehensive immigration reform by letting undocumented immigrants win legal status by serving in the military or attending college. Most Republicans view it as a step toward immigration amnesty.

It's a lot to get done in a lame duck session of Congress, but the White House believes it's possible - or at least won't say it's not possible.

Any matters not finished this year fall over to the 112th Congress in which Republicans will hold the majority in the House and the difficulties the White House faces now will be compounded in January.

"None of this is going to be easy," Mr. Obama conceded in his statement following the congressional leaders meeting. He acknowledges there are "real philosophical differences" and "deeply-held principles to which each party holds."

And though he felt the atmosphere at his first post-midterm election meeting with congressional leaders of both parties was "extremely civil," he recognizes that "those differences are going to remain no matter how many meetings we have."

Mark Knoller is a CBS News White House correspondent. You can read more of his posts in Hotsheet here. You can also follow him on Twitter here:
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