WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama said he had “a great conversation” with Senate Republicans on Thursday, the third stop in his ice-breaking tour of the Capitol this week on the budget and other contentious topics.
The 90-minute meeting with GOP rivals, senators said, featured exchanges on the budget, the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline, tax reform and the regulatory burden on businesses.
“He was very candid. He certainly understands that you can’t fix the country without adjusting entitlements to fit the demographics of our country,” said Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., referring to benefit programs such as Social Security and Medicare. “We’ll see where we go from here, but it was a great meeting.”
Obama then walked across the Capitol to meet with his House Democratic allies, capping visits this week to the Democratic and GOP conferences of both House and Senate.
Thursday’s meetings came as a Senate panel moved toward party-line approval of a blueprint that would only modestly trim the deficit while protecting safety net programs from slashing cuts proposed by Republicans.
The Senate budget plan, drafted by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., blends about $1 trillion in modest cuts to health care providers, the Pentagon, domestic agencies and interest payments on the debt with an equal amount in new revenue claimed by ending some tax breaks.
But because Democrats want to restore $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts over the same period — cuts imposed by Washington’s failure to strike a broader budget pact — Murray’s blueprint increases spending slightly when compared with current policies. And after realistic assumptions about war spending are factored in, Murray’s proposal would curb the deficit by only a few hundred billion dollars over 10 years. Murray’s plan allocates only $50 billion for overseas military operations next year and assumes no war spending whatsoever starting in 2016.
In the House, Budget Committee Republicans approved a 2014 budget plan late Wednesday with an entirely opposite approach. It whacks spending by $4.6 trillion over the coming decade and promises sweeping cuts to Medicaid and domestic agencies while setting a path to balancing the books within 10 years. The party-line vote sent the measure to the House for a vote next week.
Obama is signaling a willingness to adopt modeststeps on Medicare and Social Security. He told House Democrats that he could support a less generous inflation adjustment for Social Security but only as part of a larger bargain that includes new taxes.