WASHINGTON — Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew dismissed efforts in Congress to overhaul the nation’s tax laws by lowering the top income tax rate paid by individuals, saying Wednesday that Democrats and Republicans are too far apart to forge such a sweeping package.

Instead, Lew said, lawmakers should focus on simplifying taxes paid by businesses, an approach that is gaining traction on Capitol Hill.

“I don’t think that there’s any advantage in pretending that there aren’t big disagreements on the individual tax side,” Lew said at a forum hosted by the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank. “We had a national debate just two years ago about the top rate. We’re not looking at the kind of negotiation to go back to lower the top rate.

“While our views on individual tax reform may be far apart,” Lew said, “there is a broad set of business tax reforms on which we should be able to agree.”

Lew’s comments came a day after President Obama proposed raising taxes on the rich and using some of the revenue to finance tax breaks for the middle class. In his State of the Union address, Obama called his approach “middle-class economics.”

Congressional Republicans panned the speech, saying there is no way they would use their majorities in the House and Senate to enact tax increases.

On Wednesday, congressional Republicans said they were disappointed that the Obama administration isn’t pushing to simplify taxes for individuals. They noted that the vast majority of small-business owners report business income on their individual tax returns.

Still, key Republicans said they would welcome more talks about business taxes.

“We’re going to keep talking. We’re going to exhaust the possibilities of seeing where the common ground exists and see if we can get something done,” said Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., chairman of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee.