WASHINGTON (AP) — House Republicans are staking out stark differences with Democrats as they prepare to meet with President Barack Obama for talks over the budget impasse, while Obama is conceding that a political accommodation may be impossible.
On the one hand, many Republicans who long have chided Obama for failing to engage their party on the nation’s biggest problems are applauding his newfound outreach — part of a concerted effort by the president to mend ties with Congress in hopes of reaching a grand compromise on fiscal issues.
On the other hand, neither side is backing down from entrenched positions that have prevented deals in the past — a status quo scenario that Obama acknowledged could preclude any agreement.
“Ultimately, it may be that the differences are just too wide,” he said in an interview broadcast Wednesday on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” hours before he was to meet with House Republicans at the Capitol.
“It may be that, ideologically, if their position is, ‘We can’t do any revenue,’ or ‘We can only do revenue if we gut Medicare or gut Social Security or gut Medicaid, if that’s the position, then we’re probably not going to be able to get a deal,” he said.
The issues separating the two parties are the same as they have been all along — fundamental disagreements over whether to pair tax increases with budget cuts in an effort to rein in the nation’s deficit.
Exhibit A: the House GOP’s new budget proposal, crafted by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who ran against Obama as the 2012 Republican vice presidential nominee but broke bread with him last week as the president initiated his congressional “charm offensive.”
Ryan and House Republicans put forward their 2014 budget fully mindful that it would be dead on arrival at the White House and in the Democratic-controlled Senate. The plan, which the White House immediately panned, doubles down on longstanding Republican proposals to slash funding for programs Obama and Democrats sorely want to protect. It includes a repeal of Obama’s health care law — a major component of his legacy — and Medicare changes that would shift more of the cost to future patients.
Democrats rejected it out of hand, arguing that November’s election, in which Democrats gained seats and Obama won a second term after campaigning on the need for more revenue, showed Americans had rejected the GOP approach.
“While providing a tax windfall to the very wealthy, this proposal absolutely guts vital investments that are essential to shared prosperity, upward mobility, and rising middle class,” said Democratic Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the budget panel’s top Democrat.
Nor has Obama budged from his insistence that any budget include new tax revenues — the key sticking point in February’s failed attempt to avert $85 billion in automatic spending cuts that both parties agreed made for bad policy.
Meanwhile, Senate Democrats were to unveil a counterproposal Wednesday that aides said would raise taxes by almost $1 trillion and would use savings to repeal the automatic spending cuts — a nonstarter for House Republicans.
The resolve from both sides to dig in their heels on the most contentious issues raises an important question about Obama’s efforts to make nice with Republicans: What’s the point?
The president, who was returning to Capitol Hill Wednesday for more discussions, said in the network interview that he was searching for the “common-sense caucus.”
Earlier, White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters, “We’re not naive. There are disagreements and obstacles. But the president is at the head of this effort because he believes deeply in it.”
In reaching out to lawmakers, Obama hopes to attract more moderate elements from both parties in Congress to deal comprehensively with the nation’s long-term fiscal imbalance.