POLITICS

President Obama starts calling key Republicans to work out budget deal

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Politics,Congress,Susan Ferrechio,Politics Digest

President Obama, having just lost a standoff with Republicans over replacing the sequester budget cuts with tax increases, has for the moment abandoned his campaign-style approach to negotiating and is now personally reaching out to members of the GOP.

Obama in recent days phoned several key Republican senators to begin negotiating a long-term proposal aimed at reducing the nation's budget deficit and its $16.4 trillion debt and reforming its financially troubled entitlement programs, like Medicare and Social Security, lawmakers and aides told The Washington Examiner.

The president's new tactic comes as the House and Senate negotiate a bill to fund the government for the remainder of the year that will keep in place the $85 billion in sequester cuts that Obama hoped to at least partially offset with tax increases.

Obama, having signaled he would sign the bill, talked to lawmakers about issues beyond this year's spending, such as how to deal with the remainder of the 10-year, $1.2 trillion in sequester cuts, the need to deal with the nation's staggering debt and how to contain exploding Medicare costs. He also talked with lawmakers about tax reform.

"The president is engaging with lawmakers of both parties and will continue to do so," White House spokesman Jay Carney said Tuesday, adding that the president wants to find "common ground when it comes to reducing our deficit."

Republicans who confirmed receiving calls from Obama include Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Susan Collins of Maine, Rob Portman of Ohio, Bob Corker of Tennessee and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma.

Collins is a moderate Republican and could become an important player in a brokered deal with the White House over long-term spending issues. Corker and Graham are among the Senate's chief proponents of entitlement reform, and Coburn is the top spending watchdog.

"It was a financial issues discussion," Portman, former director of the Office of Management and Budget, said of his weekend conversation with Obama.

The president rang Graham early Tuesday afternoon, and the two men talked for 10 minutes.

Graham said Obama confirmed his commitment to reforming entitlements programs. They discussed following up their call and bringing more lawmakers into the talks.

"What I see from the president is probably the most encouraging engagement on a big issue since the early years of his presidency," Graham said.

Corker called his talk with the president "constructive." Collins' spokesman said she talked to Obama "about the need for a bipartisan agreement on several critical issues including the unsustainable $16.6 trillion debt and sequestration."

The move signals a sharp pivot for Obama, who in recent months had abandoned talks with Congress in favor of making appearances at rallies across the country, where he warned Americans that the cuts would devastate the economy.

Republicans accused Obama of using scare tactics to win public support for tax increases that Republicans are resisting.

Obama had been counting on the public blaming Republicans for the fiscal chaos over budget cuts. But the president's own poll numbers -- 46 percent like him SEmD dropped to its lowest level in months, according to the Gallup Organization.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who ran against Obama in 2008, said the president's move to begin personally negotiating with lawmakers from the opposing party "is what the previous four presidents I have served under have done regularly."

He called the move "a fine idea."

sferrechio@washingtonexaminer.com

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