President Obama and congressional Republicans say they are hopeful about new
White House outreach efforts, but don't yet know whether they will translate to
After a flurry of phone calls, a private dinner with Republican senators and a White House lunch with a key House member, Obama and the GOP remain divided over whether a new debt reduction plan should include new taxes.
"That's the challenge," said Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., one of a dozen Republican senators who dined with Obama on Wednesday. "That's exactly why we've got to stay at it."
Obama, looking for an alternative to sequestration, $85 billion in budget cuts that took effect March1, lunched Thursday with Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., chairman of the House Budget Committee, and Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md, the committee's top Democrat.
The lunch came a day after the dinner with Republican senators and within days of Obama's calls to other GOP lawmakers.
Obama continues to push for a debt-reduction agreement that includes more targeted budget cuts and increased tax revenue by eliminating loopholes that benefit the wealthy; Republicans oppose higher taxes, saying they would slow economic growth.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, described the dinner and other outreach efforts as hopeful signs -- "but if the president continues to insist on tax hikes, I don't think we're going to get very far."
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Obama will continue talking to Republicans about a "balanced" plan that includes both cuts and new revenue. "We'll see where these conversations lead. What the president hopes is that there is a spirit of compromise."
In a telephone interview, Hoeven said the parties have a "four- to five-month window" to reach an agreement. After that, they are likely to be sidetracked by discussions on raising the debt ceiling and early campaigning for the 2014 congressional elections.
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