U.S. lawmakers of both parties are praising President Barack Obama’s overtures to Capitol Hill, but say those efforts alone will not spur bipartisan action on the nation’s fiscal woes and other challenges.
Pennsylvania Avenue, which runs from the Capitol to the White House, will be well-worn this week by presidential motorcades. Obama is expected to make three separate trips to Congress to meet with lawmakers, hoping personal interaction will spur a rare commodity in Washington: a bipartisan approach to challenges ranging from fiscal matters to immigration reform.
“I have been reaching out to Republicans and Democrats to see if we can untangle some of the gridlock. I still believe we can come together to do big things," he said.
Appearing on NBC’s Meet the Press program, Republican Senator Tom Coburn applauded the president’s so-called “charm offensive”.
“I am welcoming [the Obama effort] with open arms. I think the president is tremendously sincere. I think he actually would like to solve the problems of the country, and it would be to his benefit - and certainly every Americans’ benefit - if he did that," he said.
Last week, Obama dined twice with groups of Republican lawmakers, including Senator Robert Portman. Appearing on CBS’ Face the Nation program, Portman said presidential outreach to Republicans on fiscal matters will be wasted unless Obama convinces Democratic lawmakers to embrace genuine spending restraint.
“To build some trust is a good thing. But to be honest with you, what the president needs to do is reach out, not just to Republicans, but to Democrats. And to ensure that he gives them the political cover to do, frankly, what most of them know needs to be done," he said.
The president has been urging Democratic lawmakers to accept politically painful reforms to costly programs that provide income and healthcare for retirees. But he also is urging Republicans to accept higher tax revenues as part of a formula for large-scale deficit reduction, a point emphasized by Democratic Congressman Chris Van Hollen.
“Ultimately, our Republican colleagues are going to have to back off their position where they are saying you cannot close one single tax loophole for the purpose of reducing the deficit. So, more talk is good. But ultimately we need everybody to come together and compromise," he said.
House Republicans have prepared a budget blueprint that would eliminate America’s trillion-dollar federal deficit in 10 years - a first step to ultimately shrinking a $16 trillion national debt. That plan accomplishes deficit reduction through spending cuts and reforms while actually lowering federal tax rates.
Democrats say any cuts-only plan will dismantle America’s social safety net and place the full burden of deficit reduction on the elderly and the poor.
Obama hopes to bridge such partisan differences with shuttle diplomacy along Pennsylvania Avenue.