- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 29, 2012

For the first time in seven months, President Obama hosted a White House meeting Wednesday with congressional leaders of both parties, a luncheon that produced positive comments — as well as more election-year sniping about gas prices.

The subject of the private lunch in the West Wing was jobs, and White House press secretary Jay Carney said Mr. Obama emerged hopeful that he can strike some legislative deals with congressional Republicans to boost the economy.

“It was a constructive and cordial meeting,” Mr. Carney said. “If folks focus on the areas of agreement and work in a cooperative, bipartisan fashion, we can advance the American people’s agenda.”

Mr. Carney said there was especially “reason to hope” that the two sides could reach an agreement on House Republicans’ Jobs Act, which would provide new tools for small businesses to raise capital. It is being pushed by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican.

But partisan frustration wasn’t far below the cordial veneer of the meeting.

An aide to Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, said Mr. Boehner also was “hopeful” that Democrats would “finally” consider GOP proposals for jobs and energy production. The aide said Mr. Boehner also urged the president to implement the recommendations of his own Jobs Council, which has advocated building more oil pipelines and drilling more in the U.S. He said Mr. Boehner “was encouraged by the president’s response.”

Republican lawmakers have been trying to compel the administration to approve TransCanada Corp.’s Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to the Gulf Coast. The administration rejected an application in January because of environmental concerns, and it is entertaining another plan for a shorter pipeline.

Mr. Carney reminded reporters that anyone linking the pipeline to lower gas prices — as Mr. Boehner has done — “is blowing a lot of smoke.”

“Calls to approve Keystone XL right away, again, are insulting to the American people because there is no permit to approve,” Mr. Carney said.

The office of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said Mr. McConnell told the president that “while government actions can´t drop the price of gas overnight, the administration can stop taking actions that increase the price at the pump while limiting opportunities for American job growth.”

Mr. McConnell told Mr. Obama that he and other GOP lawmakers “will continue advocating for American energy and American jobs and believe that there are opportunities for Congress to act, despite this being an election year for the president,” his office said.

Mr. Carney said it was congressional Republicans who are coming to the bargaining table out of concern for their election-year hides.

“Republicans, especially, may have some compelling reason to try to get some things done before the election this year,” Mr. Carney said. “If the only thing they have to offer is that ‘I blocked everything I could that President Obama proposed,’ maybe that’ll work in some districts, but I think in some it won’t be a particularly compelling reason to send that member back to Washington.”

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