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Obamas Host White House Dinner For 200 Guests (PHOTOS)

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WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama said he wants Democrats and Republicans to realize they share many interests, an appeal for cooperation as congressional leaders sat down together to dine Wednesday evening at the White House.

Obama welcomed the Democratic chairmen of congressional committees and the ranking Republicans on those committees, along with their spouses, to a packed East Room for dinner. About 200 people joined Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and their wives for the latest efffort in the administration's charm offensive, coming in the midst of congressional consideration of a $410 billion spending bill and future debate over Obama's $3.6 trillion budget proposal for the next year.

Obama, whose economic stimulus plan passed with only three Republican votes in the Senate, acknowledged it was not going to be an easy road.

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"We are go to have some monumental debates taking place over the next several months and years," Obama said during his brief welcome.

"We also know that we're not always going to agree on everything, but given how hard so many of you are working on both sides of the aisle _ day in, day out _ we thought it was important for us to step back for a moment, remind ourselves that we have things in common _ family, friends, laughter _ and hopefully we'll have a chance to appreciate each other a little bit, take a time-out before we dive back into the game."

The Obamas have invited lawmakers and officials to the White House for standing Wednesday evening events, although this was the largest so far. In the past, Obama invited political leaders to private cocktail receptions and to small meet-and-greet sessions. But as the president looks to sell next year's budget, he clearly sent a signal he would lobby to keep much of the proposal intact.

Obama joked to his guests, which included much of the Cabinet and White House senior aides, that such events were among his only ways to lobby them.

"It's hard to move around out there sometimes so I've got to bring the world to me," Obama said to laughter. They dined on mushroom crisps, steelhead salmon, and saffron couscous.

As Obama took the soft-handed approach, White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel laughingly warned nearby Republican Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, who has been a critic of Obama's spending plan: "Don't be a jerk."

Wednesday's dinner comes as Senate Democrats are trying to hold together their party to support Obama's budget, which would take effect Oct. 1. The new administration wants to increase agency spending by 8 percent, something fiscal conservatives _ including some Democrats _ caution is ill-advised during the economic crisis.

The White House acknowledges it cannot count on Democrats alone to pass the bill. Obama's Democratic allies control 58 votes in the Senate, but 60 are needed to close debate.