Republicans to Dine With Obama Amid Budget-Day Criticism

Senate Republicans say curbing the growth in entitlement spending and shrinking the deficit are the main topics during a dinner discussion with President Barack Obama tonight at the White House.

A dozen senators are dining with Obama just hours after the president released a $3.8 trillion fiscal 2014 budget proposal. Republican leaders criticized the spending plan for relying too much on raising tax revenue, even though it also includes steps to reduce outlays for entitlements that are designed to spur a new round of deficit-reduction talks.

“It’s an open agenda, but I think it will be a lot about finances, about the debt, about the deficit, about spending, about tax reform on the corporate side, and I hope it’s the predicate for another meeting,” Georgia Senator Johnny Isakson, said today in an interview with Bloomberg Television. Isakson organized the dinner at Obama’s request.

Neither the White House nor Isakson released a list of the invitees. Senators Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, John Boozman of Arkansas and Susan Collins of Maine said they would be attending. The offices of Senators Mike Crapo of Idaho, Pat Roberts of Kansas, Marco Rubio of Florida, John Thune of South Dakota, Mike Enzi of Wyoming, Deb Fischer of Nebraska, Orrin Hatch of Utah, and Roger Wicker of Mississippi confirmed they were going to the dinner.

Isakson said he wants the session to be “a step along the way” to a deficit-reduction agreement that lawmakers of both parties say is possible between now and the next time Congress needs to raise the federal debt ceiling, probably in late July or early August.

Latest Effort

White House press secretary Jay Carney said this week Obama also plans to discuss progress on legislation to rewrite U.S. immigration law and measures to reduce gun violence.

This is Obama’s latest effort to court lawmakers who he needs for a broad fiscal agreement. Last month, the president held a similar dinner a different group of about a dozen Senate Republicans at a restaurant a few blocks from the White House. He also traveled to Capitol Hill for meetings with the Democratic and Republican caucuses in both the House and Senate.

“I hope that the president will indicate a willingness to educate the American people about the budget, about the tough choices that we face and will indicate a willingness to work across the aisle,” Collins said.

Several Republicans said following the last dinner on March 6 that they were encouraged by Obama’s willingness to listen to points they raised.

‘Frank Discussion’

Boozman said tonight’s White House dinner provides “an opportunity to have a frank discussion” about the economic “uncertainty” caused by gridlock in Washington that he said has been troubling his constituents.

In his budget today Obama proposed reducing Social Security recipients’ annual cost- of-living adjustments by changing the inflation calculation.

Alexander said he viewed that element of Obama’s budget plan as a positive sign, calling it “an important step” that represented the “kind of change long-term in entitlement programs that will help solve the problem.”

“So if he’s ready to go along a path in that direction, why those of us who’ve been working for the last two years to create an environment to fix the debt welcome that,” Alexander added. “I don’t know where it will go, but I think we have to give him credit for doing what presidents should do.”

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