Senate GOP tells Obama to tone down the attacks
BY DAVID ESPO Associated Press
Friday, March 15, 2013
3/15/13 at 5:40 AM
WASHINGTON - Polite yet firm, Senate Republicans told President Barack Obama on Thursday to tone down his political attacks and prod Democratic allies to support controversial changes in Medicare if he wants a compromise reducing deficits and providing stability to federal benefit programs.
Participants at a 90-minute closed-door meeting said Obama acknowledged the point without yielding ground - and noted that Republicans criticize him freely.
The discussion came as Obama wrapped up a highly publicized round of meetings with rank-and-file lawmakers in both parties and both houses of Congress in hopes of building support for a second-term agenda of deficit reduction, immigration overhaul and gun control.
Obama met separately with Senate Republicans and House Democrats as legislation to lock in $85 billion in spending cuts and avert a government shutdown on March 27 made plodding progress. Separately the two parties advanced rival longer-term budgets in both houses.
No breakthroughs had been anticipated and none was reported in the closed-door sessions, although Obama told reporters before returning to the White House, "We're making progress."
In the Senate, several Republicans told the president his rhetoric was not conducive to compromise.
Sen. John Thune of South Dakota referred to a recent interview in which Obama said some Republicans want to eviscerate Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. "Nobody here believes those programs ought to be gutted," Thune told Obama, the senator later recalled.
"It's better if the president is here fully engaged with us than traveling around the country saying Congress isn't doing its job," Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming later told reporters, summarizing comments he and others had made. "The president needs to be here working side by side with Congress."
Obama has repeatedly told Republicans in recent days he supports curtailing the growth of cost-of-living benefits for Social Security and other benefit programs as part of a compromise, as well as raising costs for wealthier Medicare beneficiaries.
He has also told them they must agree to raise revenue - although not tax rates - as part of any deal.
If nothing else, the reviews of Obama's meeting with Senate Republicans were uniformly positive.
"We'll see where we go from here, but it was a great meeting," said GOP leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who normally is one of the president's sharpest critics in Congress.
Senators emerging from meetings with Obama said the discussions had ranged over the fate of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, regulatory concerns, fracking, deficit reduction and more.
The president declined to be pinned down on the fate of the Keystone Pipeline, which supporters hope to build to ship Canadian oil to the United States. Sen. John Hoeven of North Dakota said Obama pledged only to make a decision before the end of the year on the project, which is opposed by environmentalists but supported by some labor unions.
While Obama completed his closed-door round of meetings, the Senate slowly worked its way through a bill that locks in $85 billion in spending cuts through the end of the budget year while guaranteeing there won't be a government shutdown.
In a show of bipartisanship, leading senators in both parties agreed to provide flexibility for the departments of Commerce, State, Justice and Homeland Security in apportioning the spending cuts.
Original Print Headline: Senate GOP tells Obama to back off attacks