WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama is reaching out to opposition Republicans in Congress in hopes of finding an agreement on ways to cut the U.S. deficit. The effort is a sudden change from the president's recent strategy of criticizing Republicans and appealing directly to the American people.
Obama will spend much of the coming week on Capitol Hill, meeting with lawmakers from both parties and looking for solutions to the deficit and other issues.
The president's new outreach began Wednesday, when he treated 12 Republican senators to dinner at a luxurious Washington hotel.
The next day, he had lunch with Congressman Paul Ryan, the Republican chairman of the House Budget Committee, as well as Congressman Chris Van Hollen, the senior Democrat on the panel.
Both sides described the discussions as productive and pleasant, even if any deals on the deficit appear to be months away.
In his weekly address Saturday, President Obama said progress was made in several areas, and compromise is possible.
"We had an open and honest conversation about critical issues like immigration reform and gun violence, and other areas where we can work together to move this country forward. And next week, I’ll attend both the Democratic and Republican party meetings in the Capitol to continue those discussions," he said.
Watch President Obama's weekly address:
Obama's tone was far more conciliatory than in the previous week's address, in which he blamed Republicans for allowing automatic government budget cuts to take effect.
"Here’s the thing: none of this is necessary. It’s happening because Republicans in Congress chose this outcome over closing a single wasteful tax loophole that helps reduce the deficit," he said.
In his failed attempt to avert the automatic cuts, the president kept engagement with Republican leaders to a minimum. Instead, he made several campaign-style trips, calling on Americans to put pressure on Republican lawmakers to agree to his deficit reduction plan.
Now, Obama is bypassing top Republicans in favor of building support among other Republican members of Congress.
On Thursday, House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner, the president's negotiating partner in the past, said he hopes something will result from the new White House effort.
"And I frankly think it is a somewhat hopeful sign that the president, now in his second term, is beginning to understand that even the leaders have to have support from the members," he said.
Still, major disagreements on spending and taxes persist, as Senator Jeff Sessions indicated in this week's Republican address.
"President Obama speaks of his deep concern for struggling Americans, yet his plans are focused on growing government - not the economy," he said. "He has no effective plan to create better jobs, more hiring or rising wages. That’s what’s missing."
Both the Republican senators who had dinner with the president and White House press secretary Jay Carney have cautioned that bridging the partisan divide will be difficult and an agreement is far from a sure thing. But both sides say the first step has been taken.
Watch weekly Republican address: