News Column

Obama Wraps Up Congressional Meetings

March 15, 2013

President Obama finished a series of meetings with Congress on Thursday, the latest phase in a reach-out-to-Republicans effort marked by stark differences over taxes, the budget and other issues.

Senate Republicans who spoke with the president said they appreciated the visit, but repeated their opposition to new taxes in any new debt reduction plan.

"After today's meeting, it is clear to me that balancing our budget and cutting bloated Washington spending are not President Obama's top priorities," said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.

Obama aides said he will continue to talk to the GOP about a deal that is balanced between spending cuts and the elimination of tax loopholes that benefit the wealthy; he is also looking for new immigration and anti-gun violence legislation.

He wants an immigration bill that includes a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants who are already in the USA. Some Republicans see a pathway as amnesty for lawbreakers.

The president also seeks an assault weapons ban and expanded background checks for gun buyers; some Republicans say the plans infringe on Second Amendment rights.

Obama had separate meetings Thursday with Senate Republicans and House Democrats. Over the past two days, Obama spoke on Capitol Hill with groups of House Republicans and Senate Democrats. Last week featured presidential meals and calls with various Republicans.

Participants described the sessions as pleasant and informative, but with no breakthroughs.

Obama naturally found more common ground in his meetings with House and Senate Democrats, but even among the president's rank-and-file there remains concern he may be willing to negotiate further on revising entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security than many Democrats can support.

In previous unsuccessful negotiations with Republicans, Obama has been willing to consider proposals including raising the Medicare eligibility age and changing the way Social Security benefits are calculated.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Democrats were open to some changes -- like requiring wealthier seniors to pay more for Medicare -- but she made clear that Democrats would not move toward revamping Medicare as proposed by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., into a voucher-like system giving seniors subsidies to buy their own health insurance.

GOP senators also huddled with the president on Thursday, during which Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the GOP needs more direct engagement from Obama to find common ground. "He needs to be directly involved (in negotiations) ... and his job is to deliver the members of his party," he said.

Republicans found encouraging a mutual interest with Obama in overhauling the corporate tax code. Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., said he thanked the president for taking up the mantle for immigration changes as well.

Despite the cordial and constructive tone of the meetings this week, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said there is still a long way to go. "Listen, I'm glad President Obama reached out. ... And I think we had an honest discussion," he said. "But this is going to take more than dinner dates and phone calls."

President Obama reaches out to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and, from left, Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and John Cornyn of Texas on Thursday.

Source: Copyright USA TODAY 2013

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