President Obama, seeking some kind of consensus on debt reduction and other
agenda items, met with Senate Democrats on Tuesday, the first of four
conferences scheduled with lawmakers from both parties over the next three days.
In addition to the sequestration -- $85billion in automatic budget cuts over the next seven months -- Obama and Democratic colleagues discussed immigration, gun control, energy and faster Senate confirmation of Obama judicial nominees, officials said.
"He's really reaching out to everybody, to each side of the aisle," Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said after the meeting. "He explained how he's reaching out to our Republican colleagues. ... It was very good."
Manchin also told reporters, "We went through the budget, we went through it all -- things that he's working on, things that we've got to do."
Obama also talked about possible changes to growing entitlement programs that can be used to reduce government spending. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said he and others warned the president not to sacrifice long-term government commitments to the goal of debt reduction.
"We don't want to start whacking away at Social Security ... or Medicare or things like that," Harkin told reporters.
Obama's agenda starts with an alternative to the sequester. Obama is seeking a new debt-reduction deal that includes both spending cuts and new tax revenues through the elimination of loopholes that benefit the wealthy; Republicans oppose higher taxes in any new agreement.
After meeting Tuesday with generally friendly Senate Democrats, Obama is scheduled to huddle today with a more critical group: House Republicans.
Thursday brings a pair of presidential meetings on Capitol Hill: one with Senate Republicans and the other with House Democrats.
The visits are the latest moves in Obama's new outreach to Congress, especially Republicans, an effort that so far has focused more on the Senate. Last week, Obama hosted a high-profile dinner for a dozen Republican members of the Senate. The breaking of bread at The Jefferson hotel followed days of phone calls with other Republican senators.
The president had only one recent private meeting with a House Republican: a lunch with Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., chairman of the House Budget Committee. Ryan proposed a budget Tuesday that the White House quickly criticized as favorable to the wealthy and onerous to the middle class.
The White House would probably have an easier time getting legislation through the Democratic-run Senate. The Democrats would need only five Republican votes to break any potential GOP filibuster.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has pointed out for months that the Republican-run House passed two budgets in recent years. Boehner has said the Senate should take the lead the next time.
President Obama, with the Senate Sergeant at Arms Terrance Gainer, arrives Tuesday to meet with the Senate Democratic Caucus at the U.S. Capitol.
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