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Obama meets with House Democrats, fleshes out economic agenda at start of midterm year

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WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama and House Democrats hashed out their economic priorities for the year Tuesday in a White House meeting that also touched on the sensitive topics of Iran, immigration and Obama's health care law.

A week after laying out his own vision in his State of the Union address, Obama is ramping up his outreach to Congress, where the focus this year will increasingly turn to the midterm elections in November. Although most Democrats have embraced Obama's call to action on expanding economic opportunity and growing the middle class, many are publicly distancing themselves from Obama on issues like health care and energy that could prove damaging to them in their re-election fights.

In an evening session in the East Room of the White House, Obama told the lawmakers he wanted to work with Congress to help the middle class but would keep using his executive authority, the White House said. Obama is calling for Congress to pass a minimum wage hike, expanded pre-kindergarten programs, an unemployment insurance extension and an immigration overhaul.

"We are committed to building an economy that works for everyone by raising the minimum wage and renewing the lifeline of emergency unemployment insurance," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said in a joint statement after the meeting.

Obama told Democrats he takes responsibility for problems with the rollout of his health care law, and repeated his call for Congress to hold off on new sanctions against Iran while the U.S. and other world powers seek a long-term deal to resolve concerns about Iran's nuclear program, Rep. Steven Horsford, D-Nev., said.

As Obama and Democrats wait to see whether House Republicans will take action on immigration, several Democrats asked Obama to examine his policy on detention and deportations, Horsford said. Immigration advocacy groups have criticized Obama for not acting unilaterally to halt all deportations, although the White House disputes that Obama has that power.

Vice-President Joe Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew also attended Tuesday's session, Horsford said.

Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Calif., said she brought up the ongoing drought afflicting California. Obama pledged to work with the state's congressional delegation on the issue, Matsui wrote on Twitter.

Obama's meeting with House Democrats came a day after he sat down with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to plot political strategy for the year ahead. Obama planned to meet with Senate Democrats on Wednesday.

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