Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell , left, shakes hands with President Barack Obama as he arrives for a meeting with Senate Republicans.
Senate Republicans pressed President Barack Obama at their Thursday lunch to stop bashing them on the stump, work with them more closely to craft a bipartisan budget deal and to approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline.
Obama committed to making a decision on the pipeline this year, and in turn pressed Republicans to give more on revenue, saying that without it, Democrats won’t support the entitlement reforms that he acknowledged would be needed to tackle the debt.
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.”
Obama set a tone of trying to find common ground, Republicans said.
“He said, ‘Hopefully I am a better president now than the day I started, all of us need to learn from our mistakes,’” Blunt said. “That was very much the tone; ‘I’m willing to do some hard things and I am willing to do it with you,’ but then there was always the ‘but here is what I have to have to be able to do hard things,’ which was more revenue.”
There did seem to be some areas of agreement, the Republican senators said, with Obama committing to exploring tightening cost-benefit analyses of new regulations and supporting revenue neutral reform of the corporate tax code, although Blunt said the president seemed to tie that to his demand for higher revenue elsewhere.
Indeed, on the broader budget stalemate that has dominated Washington, D.C., and the president’s meetings on the Hill this week with each party, there was only agreement that an agreement needs to be hammered out in the next few months — before next year’s midterm elections heat up.
Sens. John Hoeven of North Dakota and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee pressed the president on staying engaged with the Congress rather than going out on the stump.
Hoeven said he told the president, “You’ve got to grind it out with us until you get a deal,” instead of throwing up his hands and blaming Congress.
And Alexander gave Obama a bit of a history lesson, noting the previous cross-party relationships between presidents and members of Congress, from LBJ to Reagan. Alexander said Congress needs Obama to be “Moses,” and said if he puts forward a big deal that tackles entitlements and the debt, members in both parties would try to get it passed.
Hoeven predicted the odds of a grand bargain hammered out in the Senate then passing the House are “pretty good.”