[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/02/24/art.bobiz0224.gi.jpg caption=" 'A thriving, competitive America is within our reach ... only if we move past the old debates and crippling divides between left and right,' President Obama told members of the Business Roundtable."]
Washington (CNN) - President Barack Obama sought an increasingly elusive political middle ground in remarks to business leaders Wednesday, warning that harsh partisan rhetoric is crippling the government's ability to find solutions to a growing array of problems.
The president portrayed an extensive list of administration priorities - including financial sector reform, stimulus spending, and new education investments - as necessary for long-term economic stability.
He also praised the Senate's approval earlier in the day of a $15 billion jobs bill. The package would give businesses tax breaks for hiring the unemployed and states more money for infrastructure projects. Thirteen Senate Republicans backed the measure - an unusual example of bipartisan accord in an increasingly polarized Congress.
The bill now moves to the House of Representatives, which may take it up as soon as Friday, according to a Democratic aide.
"A thriving, competitive America is within our reach ... only if we move past the old debates and crippling divides between left and right," Obama told members of the Business Roundtable, a group of CEOs representing many of the country's largest corporations.
Unfortunately, "we have arrived at a juncture in our politics where reasonable efforts to update our regulations, or make basic investments in our future, are too often greeted with cries of 'government takeover' or even 'socialism.'"
The president argued that "not only does that kind of rhetoric deny our history, but it prevents us from asking hard questions about the right balance between the private and public sectors."
Obama defended what he characterized as government's limited role in promoting economic growth. "It's not about being anti-business or pro-government," he said. "It's about being pro-growth and pro-jobs."
Part of the president's speech was devoted to what some observers have cited as the most divisive item on the White House agenda: health care reform. Obama is set to host a high-profile televised meeting with congressional Republicans on the subject Thursday.
The president said he is looking forward to "a good exchange of ideas" during the meeting. He used his appearance before the Business Roundtable to seek support from traditionally Republican-leaning corporate leaders for the plan rolled out by the White House on Monday.
"There is no certainty in a future where premiums rise without limit; a future where companies are forced to drop coverage or cut back elsewhere," Obama said. "That can't be good for business."
Among other things, Obama's plan would expand Medicare prescription drug coverage, increase federal subsidies to help people buy insurance, and give the federal government new authority to block excessive rate hikes by health insurance companies.
The White House claims the package would extend coverage to 31 million Americans while cutting the deficit by $100 billion over the next 10 years. It would be financed in part by targeted reductions in Medicare spending, a new tax on high-end health insurance plans, and an extension of the Medicare payroll tax to unearned income for couples making over $250,000 annually.
Top Republicans have slammed Obama's plan, arguing that it will increase premiums and undermine the economic recovery while doing little to contain spiraling medical costs.
A number of GOP leaders have also expressed pessimism about Thursday's meeting, arguing that it will amount to little more than political posturing on the part of the White House.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, indicated Tuesday that he may use a controversial parliamentary shortcut to bypass GOP opposition and pass a health care plan.
The fast-track approach, known as reconciliation, would allow Democrats to pass the bill with just 51 votes, not the 60 usually required to overcome a filibuster.
Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah warned in January that the use of reconciliation by the Democrats could lead to "outright war" between the two parties.
Updated: 4:10 p.m.