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President Barack Obama on Tuesday pushed Senate Democrats to support a grand budget bargain, even as the prospects for such a deal seemed as distant as ever.
Seeking to unite his party during the first of three expected sojourns to Capitol Hill this week, the president again vowed not to negotiate over the expiring debt ceiling later this year — even as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., was telling reporters that he hopes the debt ceiling brings the president to the table to cut entitlements without securing new taxes.
Obama told Senate Democrats he would continue to push for a deal that would shrink the deficit, trim entitlements, raise revenue and eliminate the sequester.
Those pronouncements encountered resistance from liberals, but the president pushed back against them during his visit to Senate Democrats’ regular Tuesday luncheon.
Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said he and Sen. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., urged the president not to trim benefits. Harkin also pushed against raising the Medicare or Social Security ages. But the president did not waver from a proposal to change the way inflation is calculated, known as chained CPI, which would have the effect of lowering entitlement payment increases over the years.
On retirement and the Medicare eligibility age, while the president said there are other ways to find savings, he did not give an express commitment to oppose the idea, Harkin said.
As for the sequester, Harkin said the president sees a grand bargain as the way out, and if Republicans won’t come to the table, they will own the effects.
The meeting was part of a larger push by the president to bring the parties together — the first of four meetings with lawmakers in both chambers this week. He will meet with House Republicans on Wednesday and with Senate Republicans and House Democrats on Thursday.
But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said there’s not much to talk about on the budget until Republicans agree to more revenue.
“I don’t think there is any way to negotiate if it is a one-sided negotiation,” he said.
Democratic senators generally gave the president high marks for bringing the caucus together.
“It was constructive,” Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said. “We are trying to be united, unlike our friends on the other side.”