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Senate GOP Pushes Obama on Taxes, Keystone, Outreach

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell , left, shakes hands with President Barack Obama as he arrives for a meeting with Senate Republicans.

Still, Hoeven and other Republicans pushed back against the president’s call for more statically scored revenue. (Some Republicans are open to new revenue coming from growth presumed from a simpler, more efficient tax code). They noted he got revenue in the fiscal cliff deal, and that Republicans have come to the table to back items such as means testing in Medicare, which effectively takes money from wealthier seniors.

Hoeven and Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming both pressed the president on the Keystone XL oil pipeline. Amid the back and forth over the merits of the project, the president committed to making a decision this year, likely in a matter of months. Hoeven pushed for a faster decision, noting that the project has been studied for five years. While noncommittal, the president said that some of the claims by environmentalists against the pipeline were exaggerated, Hoeven reported.

In general, Republicans leaving the meeting appeared to be in good spirits, with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell holding a news conference in the Ohio Clock Corridor with three GOP freshmen: Sens. Deb Fischer of Nebraska, Ted Cruz of Texas and Jeff Flake of Arizona.

Cruz said he asked Obama “if he agreed that the No. 1 priority for every elected official should be economic growth” and asked for answers on the issues of tax code reform and regulatory reform to reduce burdens on American business.

“I was encouraged by his answers to both questions,” the conservative firebrand said. The Texas Republican was quite complimentary of the president — a marked change of tone from the one he has used with Cabinet nominees — and said Obama seemed to support the GOP position on corporate taxes, “lowering rates” and “broadening the base.” Of course, not all Democrats agree with using the money generated by closing loopholes to lower rates, but the president’s conversation with Republicans seemed to indicate an openness to compromise.

McConnell seemed especially bullish on Obama’s tax talk, saying, “On the corporate side, it sounded like we had an agreement.”

The Kentucky Republican warned, however, that corporate tax policy needs to be reformed on the personal side as well, given the importance of s-corps, for example, but said he thought Thursday’s meeting was a good start.

Blunt said Obama seemed to tie corporate tax reform to his desire for revenue elsewhere.

Members cracked jokes as they were leaving the two-hour long lunch, as good a sign as any from a closed-door session that it went well.

In explaining his appreciation for Thursday’s visit, Flake said Obama’s outreach to the GOP is not unprecedented, noting that when he was in the House, the president invited 10 members to play basketball with him at the White House.

“We won and we were never invited back,” Flake said, to laughs.

On a serious note, Flake told reporters that on issues including the budget and immigration the president was clear he needs Republican help. The Arizona Republican — who is a member of a bipartisan Senate negotiating group trying to hash out an immigration deal — said Obama opened his session Thursday by stating he’s not running for re-election anymore and said he would help move Democrats to the middle if Republicans could work on their conservative base.

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