Republicans warn Obama to tone down attacks and target Democrats instead
on 15/03/2013 07:29:20
Both sides described the 90-minute meeting yesterday as helpful, though nothing concrete emerged to narrow the partisan divide has hurt efforts to address a series of fiscal crises.
"We're making progress," Mr Obama told reporters before returning to the White House after his third straight day of rare outreach to thaw the frosty relationship.
Ideological differences on how to slash the deficit have left the country wrestling with a blunt $85bn in budget cuts.
Both parties admit the cuts threaten the US economic recovery, but they automatically took effect on March 1 because the two sides could not reach a compromise on an alternative. Democrats have demanded higher taxes, while Republicans want a plan that solely includes spending cuts.
Mr Obama met Senate Republicans and House of Representatives Democrats as Congress made plodding progress on legislation to both cope with the spending cuts and address the next looming crisis - a possible government shutdown over funding at the end of this month.
Both parties have also offered budget proposals in an annual ritual that is mostly political posturing meant to lay out each side's stance on spending.
In the Senate, several Republicans told the president his rhetoric was not conducive to compromise.
"It's better if the president is here fully engaged with us than travelling around the country saying Congress isn't doing its job," Senator John Barrasso told reporters, summarising comments he and others had made.
Senator Lamar Alexander said the message to Mr Obama had been: "Step one is to work with us, not just heckle and taunt us on the campaign trail, and step two is to lead." He said the president must also "go against the grain in his own party".
Participants at the closed-door meeting said Mr Obama acknowledged the point without yielding ground - and noted that Republicans criticised him freely.
Mr Obama has shown a willingness to reduce spending on big entitlement schemes such as the Medicare health care programme for the elderly, the Social Security pension and Medicaid care for the poor - traditionally a taboo among Democrats - in exchange for raising revenue by closing loopholes in the tax code. He has not insisted on higher tax rates.
"He was candid and open and direct and he didn't sugar coat it," Mr Alexander said. "He recognises that we have some pretty big differences and we ought to keep expectations under control, but he said he believes - and I think all of us believe - this is the way we should be doing business together."
Senators said the meeting also featured exchanges on the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada, tax reform and the regulatory burden on businesses.
In the House on Wednesday, Budget Committee Republicans approved a 2014 budget plan that cuts spending by 4.6 trillion dollars over the coming decade with cuts to Medicaid and domestic agencies while balancing the government's books within 10 years. The vote sent the measure to the full House for a vote next week.
The House budget plan tries to protect the Defence Department from the deep spending cuts by cutting more deeply into the day-to-day operating budgets of domestic agencies next year.
Last night Senate Democrats pushed a budget through committee that calls for about one trillion dollars in new tax revenues over the coming decade and increases spending slightly over current projections. The blueprint is expected to be on the Senate floor for a vote next week.
The US debt is now at 16.6 trillion dollars. The Treasury Department indicated on Wednesday that the annual deficit, at least, was starting to shrink. Higher taxes and an improving economy are expected to hold the deficit below one trillion dollars for the first time since Mr Obama took office.