Obama Continues 'Charm Offensive' On Capitol Hill

Mar 14, 2013
Originally published on March 14, 2013 8:34 am
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Now, let's come back to Washington for our next story, here. President Obama continues his charm offensive today on Capitol Hill. He's going to meet with House Democrats and Senate Republicans, and he's likely to hear very different things. Yesterday was also a study in the differences between these two parties. The president met with House Republicans on the same day that Democrats in the Senate unveiled their budget plan.

Remember, budget questions are at the heart of the conflict, here. NPR's Tamara Keith has today's business bottom line.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: House Republicans filed into the basement room where they hold their weekly conference meetings to hear from a man who they usually don't have many nice things to say about. Inside, a White House official says President Obama told them he knew they disagreed on a lot, but that they should try to work together on the areas where they do agree.

And he repeated something a lot of Republicans simply don't believe, that he's willing to cut entitlements. As members dispersed, the reviews were mixed.

REPRESENTATIVE PAUL RYAN: It was a very frank exchange. I think members had - were glad to have the opportunity, and I think he did himself some good by coming here.

KEITH: That's Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee. Do these conversations give him hope that the differences could be bridged?

RYAN: I think it just remains to be seen. I think that the question is: Is it temporary, or is it a sincere conversion? And only time will tell.

KEITH: Describing the meeting, Congressman Darryl Issa from California chose sarcasm.

REPRESENTATIVE DARRYL ISSA: He does not want to balance the budget in 10 years, and he wants tax increases and he wants new spending. But other than that, we're close.

KEITH: Issa then let out a big laugh, because of course those three things represent the most fundamental disagreements between the two parties. Minnesota Republican Michele Bachmann says the president called for bipartisanship, but she doesn't think he meant it.

REPRESENTATIVE MICHELE BACHMANN: It didn't seem terribly fruitful. Over and over, he restated the obvious and said he was willing to do hard things, but he would never say what those hard things were that he wanted to do.

KEITH: At the same time, the president was meeting with House Republicans. Senate Budget Committee chairman Patty Murray from Washington took a seat at the head of a long, green table.

SENATOR PATTY MURRAY: This committee will come to order. I understand we have new pope and a committee hearing to mark up a budget. That's history twice. That's good.

KEITH: It's been four years since the committee last produced a budget, and this one highlights the differences between the parties: Where the top priority of the House GOP budget is to cut spending and eliminate the budget deficit, Murray said her budget focuses on creating jobs and helping the middle class.

MURRAY: We believe that in order to truly tackle our economic and fiscal challenges in the real world and not just make them disappear on paper, we need a strong foundation for growth built from the middle-out.

KEITH: It even contains $100 billion for what Murray calls an economic recovery protection plan. It cuts spending by almost a trillion dollars and raises taxes through closing loopholes in an equal amount, which prompted a rebuke from the ranking Republican on the committee, Jeff Sessions from Alabama.

SENATOR JEFF SESSIONS: Is it really possible that after four years, the majority has found no reforms, that we just now have another tax-and-spend budget that makes no alteration of our dangerous debt course?

KEITH: He says the goal should be to - like the House budget - eliminate the deficit in 10 years. Democrats and the president don't share that goal. Tamara Keith, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.