Obama Reaches Out To Republicans With Dinner Invitations

Mar 7, 2013
Originally published on March 7, 2013 5:13 pm
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President Obama may be trying to eat his way to a budget deal. Last night, he hosted a private dinner for a dozen Republican senators. And today, he had lunch with Paul Ryan, the top budget writer in the House of Representatives. Here's NPR's Scott Horsley on the president's dining table diplomacy.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: No one's suggesting just breaking bread with Republicans will break the partisan stalemate in Washington. But some good table manners can't hurt. White House spokesman Jay Carney briefed reporters today as the president was serving up lunch in his private dining room for the Republican chairman of the House Budget Committee, Paul Ryan.

JAY CARNEY: As you know, the president believes that Chairman Ryan is a thought leader in the Republican Party on these matters. There is no question that there are going to be disagreements, but there are also likely to be areas of agreement.

HORSLEY: The two men agree, for example, that rising health care costs are the main driver of the government's long-term deficits. But they have very different ideas of how to fix that. Ryan's plan, to replace Medicare with a voucher for future retirees, drew withering criticism from the president during last year's campaign when Ryan was the Republicans' vice presidential nominee. Carney insists that doesn't have to be a conversation stopper.

CARNEY: We don't have to resolve all of our differences in order to move forward on finding solutions to the challenges that we face.

HORSLEY: Ryan issued a statement after the lunch thanking the president and saying he looks forward to an open debate next week when congressional Republicans and Democrats unveil their rival budget plans.

In talking with Ryan and the Republican senators, Obama is deliberately sidestepping GOP leaders. But House Speaker John Boehner says he welcomes the president's move.

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER: After being in office now over four years, he's actually going to sit down and talk to members. I think it's a sign, a hopeful sign. And I'm hopeful that something will come out of it.

HORSLEY: Boehner warned, however, the president's call for more tax revenue is still a meal Republicans won't swallow. Scott Horsley, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.