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Obama Gives GOP Reason to Hope for New Grand Bargain

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
President Barack Obama has been reaching out to Republicans on Capitol Hill in recent days, including hosting a dinner Wednesday night with 12 Republican senators. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, John Hoeven of North Dakota and Dan Coats of Indiana were among those who attended the dinner at a downtown Washington, D.C., restaurant.

The pall that hung over the Capitol last week after Congress failed to do anything about the sequester has lifted — if only a bit.

President Barack Obama’s outreach to Republicans this week has revived flagging hopes for a grand budget bargain even though there has been no breakthrough on the key question of taxes.

Obama has called more than a half-dozen Republicans, dined with 12 and had lunch Thursday with House Budget Chairman Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., and ranking member Chris Van Hollen, D-Md. And there’s more to come, including a visit to each GOP caucus in the Capitol next week.

Plus, the Republicans who Obama hopes will help form a “caucus of common sense” are ignoring blowback among some conservative activists and groups.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., has led the charge to thaw the relations between the White House and the GOP — compiling the list of a dozen Republicans who dined with the president Wednesday night at the Jefferson Hotel at the president’s request.

Graham again held out hope Thursday for a grand bargain including a tax overhaul deal that would lower rates and help pay down the debt. And he dismissed criticism he’s gotten for reaching out to the president.

“Let me put it this way ... if I can’t go have dinner with the president of the United States to talk about the problems that face our nation, I shouldn’t be running,” said Graham, who is up for re-election next year. Graham added, “The enemies of this nation ... are al-Qaida, the Taliban and the terrorists. I have political opponents on the other side of the aisle. They are not my enemies.”

The meal included a few minutes of chitchat but quickly grew serious as the lawmakers hashed out their thoughts on Social Security, Medicare and taxes, with the president and the lawmakers alike noting the urgency of getting something done in the next several months.

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., a tea party favorite, said the parties remain at an impasse despite the dinner, but he still has hope that a deal may be reached that would focus largely on the need to change entitlements. And he said he’s not worried about criticism from the right.

“Let’s face it, neither side’s going away. So, if we’re going to fix these entitlement programs it’s going to have to be a bipartisan approach, and you can’t come up with a bipartisan approach if you are not sitting down and talking to people,” Johnson said.

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