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After Dinner With Obama, GOP Senators See New Tone on Budget

Mar. 7, 2013 - 10:48AM   |  
By JOHN T. BENNETT   |   Comments
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WASHINGTON — After a dinner chat Wednesday evening with President Barack Obama, two U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee Republican members say they hope the era of budgetary and fiscal crises are ending.

The White House-arranged dinner is part of an administration effort to work more closely with moderate and deal-making members of the Senate Republican caucus. The goal is to move Obama’s second-term agenda closer to implementation.

Asked Thursday morning by Defense News whether the dinner is beginning to change the bitter partisanship that has enveloped Washington since 2010, Sen. John McCain said, “It seemed to be changing last night, yes.”

In a statement issued Thursday, another attendee, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., called the dinner session “productive and substantive.”

“I hope it will serve as the beginning of a new, long-overdue paradigm where people in elected office actually begin talking to each other about meaningful issues,” Graham said. “The discussions with the president about our long-term budget problems were candid and differences in philosophy were apparent. However, also apparent was common ground on how to move forward.

Obama and his White House aides hope the charm offensive will spawn a so-far elusive comprehensive fiscal package that, among other things, replaces the $500 billion defense sequestration cuts with other deficit-reducing measures.

Graham last week announced that to get that kind of “big deal” he is willing to sign onto about $600 billion in new revenues — via steps such as closing loopholes — if Obama and congressional Democrats will agree to major entitlement program changes.

In a statement this week, the White House stated bluntly that Obama also wants a comprehensive fiscal deal that turns off the defense sequestration cuts and an identical amount of domestic cuts that he says will hurt the economy.

Also attending the dinner at Washington’s posh Jefferson Hotel were GOP Sens. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, Bob Corker of Tennessee, Dan Coats of Indiana, Richard Burr of North Carolina, Mike Johanns of Nebraska, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, John Hoeven of North Dakota and Saxby Chambliss of Georgia.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney has called this group the upper chamber’s “caucus of common sense.”

Graham sent a message to those colleagues and the president, saying in his statement, “there is no dishonor in trying and failing to solve big problems.”

“The long-term budgetary problems we discussed last night have defied bipartisan solutions for far too long,” Graham said. “I’m ready to try to solve the serious, long-term budget problems our country faces and can accept failure as an outcome. But I cannot accept not trying.”

And the outspoken South Carolina senator appeared to jab at both the new realities of being a national politician and reports that Obama desperately wants Democrats to take back the House in 2014.

“One thing I am certain of,” Graham said, “the perpetual campaign will not solve the nation’s problems.”

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