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Obama kicks off week of meetings on Capitol Hill

March 12, 2013|By Kathleen Hennessey and Michael A. Memoli
  • President Obama leaves after a meeting with the Senate Democratic Caucus on Capitol Hill.
President Obama leaves after a meeting with the Senate Democratic Caucus… (Jewel Samad / AFP/Getty…)

WASHINGTON – President Obama’s public push to restore relations with his congressional colleagues entered its second stage – the luncheon phase –  Tuesday, when he conferred with Senate Democrats for the first of four midday meetings on Capitol Hill this week.

Obama gathered with his allies for more than an hour at their weekly, closed-door strategy session at the Capitol. Top on the president’s agenda is his effort to resolve the budget fight with congressional Republicans, as well as efforts to pass immigration reform and gun control.

The trek to the Hill is a rare one for this president, a politician who has regularly dismissed the role that personal relationships plays in politics and largely ignored complaints from lawmakers in both parties about his distant style. This year, White House spokesman Jay Carney mocked reporters’ questions about whether the president should go to the Hill to talk to lawmakers as being based on expectations set by the television show “West Wing.”

Still, just like the fictional President Josiah Bartlet, and real presidents before him, Obama announced he would be going to the Hill for three days in a row to meet with lawmakers.

Last week, he invited Republican senators out to dinner and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) up to the White House for lunch. Wednesday he’ll meet with House Republicans, followed Thursday by separate meetings with Senate Republicans and House Democrats.

As they did last week, lawmakers emerged from the meeting Tuesday largely with positive reviews and promises to work together, particularly on any effort to craft a big deficit reduction deal.

“He thinks it's very important that we solve these problems together,” said Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.). “And he says that working together with Republicans, in terms of getting a grand bargain or a major dent in this issue, is critically important.”

The president added that though compromise is essential, “he hasn't seen enough of it from [Republicans] yet. But he's also going to continue trying.”

Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.) said the conversation didn’t dwell too long on the nitty-gritty of stitching together that deal – particularly the details of entitlement reform most likely to divide Democrats. Still, those tensions were clear.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said he and others pressed the president over a proposal he has said he would support to change how the government calculates cost-of-living adjustments for government programs, such as Social Security, which could reduce payments to senior citizens.

“The president was pretty clear that we need to have these programs sustainable, and that it’s reasonable to look at it,” Cardin said. “There was a lot of discussion.”

Staff writer Lisa Mascaro contributed to this report.

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