WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama’s three days of visits to Capitol Hill produced no serious thaw in the partisan standoff that’s impeded progress on budget and other fiscal matters for years.
Obama on Thursday wrapped up an extraordinary series of four visits in three days with lawmakers at the Capitol, hoping to gain enough trust to forge ahead with the kind of grand fiscal bargain that so far has been unattainable.
While he may have laid some groundwork – the mood in the meeting rooms throughout the week was described as cordial – Republicans and some liberal Democrats remained skeptical that they could find consensus for a broader plan to curb projected deficits.
“It’s nice that the president reached out,” said House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. “We were glad to have him. But there are big differences. And the president’s idea of compromise is just do it my way.”
In their meeting, House Republicans pointedly asked the president if he was more eager to win congressional seats for Democrats than to get a bipartisan budget deal. In their meetings, liberal Democrats worried that the president might compromise too much on Medicare and other entitlement programs, though he assured them he wouldn’t.
“He recognized that we have some pretty big differences and we ought to keep expectations under control,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn. “But he said he believes, and I think all of us believe, that this is the way we should be doing business together.”
In the days and weeks ahead, the effect of the meetings could be hard to detect.
The first order of business is keeping the government funded and open past March 27 through Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year. Final votes on a stopgap plan, which might ease the harshness of the March 1 automatic spending cuts by giving some agencies flexibility to move money around, are expected late next week.
The lack of rancor so far is not Obama’s doing. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., said senators have been peppered with pleas from constituents urging cooperation. “Both sides are hearing that,” he said.
Next is a tougher task. The House and Senate next week plan to consider budget proposals for the next 10 years beyond Sept. 30. Republicans control the House and are offering a plan to raise no taxes, balance the budget, and slow the growth in domestic spending beyond what Democrats will accept.
Democrats will counter in the Senate with a budget that would raise $975 billion in taxes and cut an equal amount from projected spending over 10 years. Republicans say that plan will go nowhere.
Obama all week has spoken about a big deal that would set the nation on a different fiscal course, and found Republicans largely divided into two camps.
One, largely in the House, seemed unconvinced that Obama is prepared to compromise.
“He’s not aloof, he’s not in your face, he’s articulate, affable, he wasn’t rude, he wasn’t offensive,” said Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas. But, he added, the message from Obama was: “I’m a good guy. If you’d act on what I said three years ago, we’d be fine.”