President Barack Obama’s dinner with a handful of Republican senators last night signaled a potential bipartisan shift in governance following the failure to stop the sequester budget cuts from taking hold. Obama invited several lawmakers to dinner last night at the Jefferson Hotel in Washington, D.C., only a couple of blocks away from the White House.
Many on the right have accused the President of campaigning against the sequester rather than engaging with Republicans to come to a compromise. A Reuters/Ipsos poll released yesterday shows that the President’s popularity has dropped to 43 percent following his handling of the sequester budget cuts. Nearly the same number of people polled blamed Democrats for the end result as Republicans.
Arizona Senator John McCain and Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn both gave reporters thumbs up as they exited the private meeting. The President paid for the dinner out of his own pocket, his latest effort to open dialogue with members of Congress in hopes of building a coalition that can be used to pass a moderate response to the new budget cuts. President Obama called several members of Congress over the weekend, an earlier move to open up lines of communication.
Face-to-face meetings give Republicans a chance to gauge if President Obama means what he says. Many have doubted whether the President is actually willing to cut money from entitlements. The White House has posted a plan online that proposes making over $200 billion in savings from Medicare alone.
The White House was quiet about the dinner in order to shield Republicans from criticism in their own states. For many Republicans over the last few years, appearing with the President left them vulnerable to political challengers from their conservative base. Several Republicans have had their careers cut short by appearing to be too friendly with the President, such as former Florida Governor Charlie Christ.
The current moment marks the first time in years that Congress lacks a looming budgetary crisis. The sequester budget cuts will come in a trinkle, not a flood, giving lawmakers time to engage with each other over a fiscal approach most of them can agree on. Such legislation is not expected to appear until later in the spring or into the summer.
Obama’s dinner last night, if only for the moment, signals a subtle shift in Washington’s tone.
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