Barack Obama seeks compromise with Republican senators

Barack Obama received a warmer and more positive reception when he addressed a private meeting of Senate Republicans at Congress on Thursday than at his encounter the previous day with their House colleagues.

His 90-minute meeting with the Senate Republicans, at which he received several ovation, followed later in the afternoon with one with House Democrats, brought to an end a three-day charm offensive on Capitol Hill. After two years of criticism that he has been aloof and failed to engage with members of Congress, he addressed Senate Democrats on Tuesday and House Republicans on Wednesday.

Republican senators, during a question-and-answer session at a lunch hosted by them, appeared more receptive to working to find common ground to resolve the budget standoff than their Republican counterparts in the House.

Obama was greeted by silence when he turned up for the Wednesday meeting with House Republicans, who have a strong core of Tea Party-backed members strongly resistant to doing deals that would involve increased federal spending or tax rises.

Obama assured Republican senators that the overtures he was making to them on Capitol Hill this week were not born out of political cynicism. He told them the visit was not part of a longer-term plan for the 2014 midterm election by portraying himself as seeking compromise while presenting the Republicans as obstructionist.

Instead, he insisted he was genuinely seeking a budget deal. He told them he was prepared to stand up to his own party and make concessions on welfare benefits, which Republicans want cut, but needed them to stand up to their party grassroots by agreeing to tax increases. Only a combination of the two could resolve the budget crisis.

At the end of the two meetings on Thursday, he summed up his last three days.

"I think we've had good conversations. But ultimately it's a matter of the House and Senate, both caucuses, getting together and being willing to compromise. We'll see what we can do," Obama said.

Republican senator Pat Roberts told the Washington Post: "I think this is more substantive than I anticipated. Three years previously, in a more heated meeting over Obama's healthcare reform, Roberts left the meeting and told reporters Obama needed to "take a Valium".

The Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, told reporters that while immigration and other issues were discussed, it was dominated by budgetary matters. "We had a candid exchange," he said.

Republican senator Jeff Flake told Bloomberg News that Obama vowed to battle Democrats on entitlement reform but in return wanted them to stand up to activists opposed to any tax rises, such as Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform.

"He challenged us to do the same thing in terms of our base on the revenue side," said Flake. "He mentioned there's some theories out there that he's trying to lure everyone into a trap as a way to take back the House. He assured us that he's simply trying to get a budget deal done."

Powered by article was written by Ewen MacAskill in Washington, for on Thursday 14th March 2013 22.45 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010


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