WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama is launching a full-court press to prod Senate Republicans into helping him pass the so-far elusive “big deal,” the kind of sweeping fiscal package that could void Pentagon spending cuts.
Obama last Friday joined hawkish lawmakers — and pro-entitlement program Democrats — in decrying Washington’s inability to pass the kind of $1 trillion deficit-trimming package needed to replace cuts to planned defense and domestic spending.
Obama, speaking Friday from the White House briefing room, dubbed the cuts “arbitrary” and “unnecessary” and “inexcusable.” He added the cuts would “send a ripple effect throughout the economy.”
The commander in chief added that he hopes, “after some reflection, as members of Congress start hearing from constituents that are negatively impacted … they step back and say, ‘All right, is there a way for us to move forward on’ a package of deficit-reduction measures that both political parties can agree on.”
Since then, sources and reports indicate Obama has abandoned his first-term approach of engaging very little, if at all, with lawmakers. The new charm offensive has seen Obama call GOP senators, and plans to dine with some of them Wednesday evening.
Press Secretary Jay Carney says the president is trying to work with members of the GOP’s “caucus of common sense.”
The goal: to garner enough Republican support for several second-term items the White House believes it has only a few months to pass, including a comprehensive fiscal bill that just might replace the defense cuts with other federal cuts and/or new revenue-raising measures.
The White House announced Wednesday that Obama will visit the House and Senate GOP and Democratic caucuses to make his pitch.
“The president asked for the opportunity to speak to the caucuses about the priorities on his legislative agenda,” the White House said in a statement.
One of the lawmakers to whom Obama and his aides have been reaching out is Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who last week said he wants Washington to take one more try at a comprehensive fiscal deal to void the sequestration defense cuts.
“We’re not going to do revenue to fix sequestration,” Graham said last Thursday. “I’m willing to do $600 billion more in revenue if they’re willing to do entitlement reform. … The off ramp should be Republicans put revenue on the table to get the president close to the $1.2 trillion” in deficit-reduction measures mandated by the 2011 Budget Control Act to void all the sequester cuts.
In return, Graham is pressing his Democratic colleagues to “structurally change Medicare” by raising the Medicare-eligibility age, and make other big changes to some of their prized domestic programs.
On Tuesday, Graham told reporters he now is convinced Obama “wants to do the big deal,” meaning a broad fiscal package that pays down more federal debt, reforms the tax code, makes changes to domestic entitlement programs, — and maybe, just maybe, finds a way to replace the nearly $1 trillion in cuts to planned defense and domestic spending slated to go into effect over the next decade.
It remains unclear whether Obama’s outreach can bridge big divides among various factions on the Hill, including domestic program-protecting Democrats, pro-military Republicans, and ultra-conservative GOP lawmakers, whose lone major priority is slashing the deficit by cutting federal spending from wherever possible.