Cordiality, but results less clear

President Obama leaves a Democratic meeting with (from left) Reps. Frederica Wilson of Florida, Terri Sewell of Alabama, and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California.
President Obama leaves a Democratic meeting with (from left) Reps. Frederica Wilson of Florida, Terri Sewell of Alabama, and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California. (AP)

Obama wrapped up talks on Capitol Hill, but areas of agreement were not apparent.

Posted: March 15, 2013

WASHINGTON - President Obama spent a highly unusual three days on Capitol Hill trying to generate some goodwill among rank-and-file lawmakers, but at the conclusion of the closed-door huddles it remained unclear whether face time over lobster salad and blueberry pie would do anything to repair Washington's long-simmering rifts.

"I think we've had good conversations," Obama said as he left the Capitol on Thursday. "But ultimately it's a matter of the House and Senate, both caucuses, getting together and being willing to compromise."

House Speaker John A. Boehner said Thursday: "This is going to take more than dinner dates and phone calls. It's going to take the president and Senate Democrats rolling up their sleeves, making tough choices about how we solve our nation's problems. No more tax hikes, no more gimmicks, and no more putting off what needs to be done today."

GOP senators emerged from a lunchtime meeting with Obama on Thursday in a buoyant mood, saying that he fielded nearly a dozen questions over 90 minutes regarding budget negotiations, immigration, entitlement programs, corporate taxes, and federal regulation.

Republican senators have been a particular target of Obama's so-called charm offensive, as a handful of members have expressed new willingness to accept new revenue as part of a broad debt deal. House Republicans are deeply opposed.

The president's meeting Thursday followed an informal dinner with 12 Republican senators, including Pennsylvania's Pat Toomey, last week, and a series of one-on-one phone calls with members.

"I think this is more substantive than I anticipated," said Sen. Pat Roberts (R., Kan.), adding that he was pleasantly surprised that the discussion "got down into the weeds" of fiscal policy.

A key focus was asking Obama to tone down his rhetoric on entitlement programs, as Republicans cited an interview this week with ABC News in which he accused the GOP of wanting to balance the budget by "gutting" Medicare and Social Security.

Throughout the exchange, Sen. Roger Wicker (R., Miss.) said his colleagues stressed that "presidential involvement" would be critical in the coming months, as Republicans encouraged Obama to take on members of his party on entitlements.

Later in the day, Obama told House Democrats - the most liberal caucus in Congress - that he will press to save money from entitlements, which are the largest contributor to future debt. But he promised that he would not do so unless Republicans back down on taxes.

"We're not going to chase a bad deal," he told them, according to people in the room. "We're not in a short-term crisis."

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