WASHINGTON (Reuters) - In his week of outreach to Republican senators, U.S. President Barack Obama on Thursday will have lunch with the top Republican and Democrat on the House of Representatives Budget Committee in a bid to bridge differences on the nation’s pressing fiscal issues.
The president will have lunch with Republican chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, the committee’s top Democrat, congressional and White House sources said.
Thursday’s meeting will follow days of outreach by Obama, who dined with a dozen Republican senators on Wednesday and made a series of telephone calls to various members of Congress earlier in the week after across-the-board budget cut known as the “sequester” kicked in.
At issue is the stalemate over the U.S. budget and how to rein in growth of the $16.7 trillion federal debt. Obama and fellow Democrats want to narrow the fiscal gap with spending cuts and tax increases, while Republicans oppose raising taxes and want to do it all with cuts.
Several Republican senators at Wednesday’s dinner said it was cordial and that Obama seemed sincere in wanting to work together toward an agreement over the federal budget.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham called the meeting “productive and substantive,” even as it spotlighted their major differences. “However, also apparent was common ground on how to move forward,” Graham, of South Carolina, said.
Republican Senator Dan Coats said the meeting produced “a very adult discussion.”
“Instead of being on the campaign trail and the president trying to make his point, we were working together and talking together about the real essence of our problem and how we can get this thing turned from this never-ending short-term fix fiscal cliff stuff into a long-term solution to our fiscal problem,” Coats, of Indiana, said on Thursday on CNN.
Senator Tom Coburn said Obama raised the issue of reforming entitlement programs. Such programs, which include Social Security and the Medicare health insurance plan, are exempt from the recent budget cut but make up a huge and growing portion of government outlays as the nation ages.
Whether Republicans would be open to raising revenue through changes to the tax code, as opposed to politically charged tax increases, has been an ongoing issue for conservatives.
Coburn told MSNBC those at the dinner were willing to pay “the political price” of losing their seats in Congress to fix the debt crisis.
Although Republicans noted the meeting was a constructive start, Coburn added that it would take time to rebuild relationships between the White House and Republicans.
“If you’ve had years of having somebody put their finger in your eye and question your motivations and ascribe things to you that aren’t accurate, that takes some healing,” the Oklahoma Republican told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Thursday.
Next week, Obama is meetings with members of both political parties on Capitol Hill. (Reporting by Susan Heavey, additional reporting by Richard Cowan and Jeff Mason; Editing by Vicki Allen)