President Barack Obama has broken the ice with suspicious and distrustful Republicans on Capitol Hill during the past two weeks, but it hasn’t yet yielded any immediate breakthroughs on the budget stalemate that threatens to lead to yet another partisan debt showdown in a few months.
Obama’s meetings with the four congressional caucuses, and particularly with the GOP, were notable for just how rare they have been. And, at least on tone, he won plaudits in both chambers for engaging with Republicans instead of heading out to the stump and slamming them as defenders of the rich.
Those attacks proved successful in his November re-election but irritated many of the lawmakers he’ll need to craft and then push a bipartisan grand bargain across the finish line.
And while the White House has kept expectations low that his outreach will result in tangible benefits, aides say Obama will continue to engage after his trip to the Middle East next week and remains hopeful that the parties can ultimately come together on the budget and the rest of his agenda, including immigration and gun control measures.
Obama presented House and Senate Republicans with a choice — they can choose a deal that includes meaningful entitlement changes, including means-testing of Medicare and putting Social Security cost-of-living adjustments on a diet — or end up with no entitlement changes and no tax revisions. Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, the Republican Conference vice chairman, quoted Obama as saying, “I can’t provide the cover [for Democrats] to get entitlement reform done without revenue.”
But Republicans pushed back. That was particularly true in the House, where the leadership immediately went to the microphones to vow that they weren’t budging on their just-say-no position on new revenue.
And GOP leaders, including Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio, continued to press the president to lead the country on the thorny issue of entitlements. Republicans want Obama to train his bully pulpit on the need for tough fiscal medicine rather than on attacking them.
One area where all sides seemed to agree — particularly in the Senate — is that the window is short before attention will shift to the midterm elections.
“I think a general sense on the part of Senate Republicans and the president both is that between now and the summer is a critical moment, and if we miss it, we miss the big opportunity maybe in the foreseeable future to get anything done,” Blunt said.
Sens. John Hoeven of North Dakota and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee also pressed the president to continue with the outreach, which has included calls to many Republican senators, a dinner with a dozen of them last week and this week’s three trips to the Capitol to meet with the Democratic and Republican caucuses.
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