President Barack Obama’s calls to about a half-dozen Republican senators have drawn a favorable response and some optimism about the prospects for a deficit- reduction deal.
Republican Senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Susan Collins of Maine said they spoke with Obama Tuesday. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, Rob Portman of Ohio and Bob Corker of Tennessee said Tuesday that they received calls from the president since March 1, when Obama said he would reach out to “a caucus of common sense on Capitol Hill” that he said he hoped would be open to a broad deficit-reduction agreement.
“He just called me,” Graham told reporters as he headed into a closed-door Republican lunch Tuesday. The senator said the two spoke for about 10 minutes. “I’m very encouraged by what I see from the president in terms of substance and tone. He’s calling people - this is how you solve hard problems.”
Graham said Obama was trying to “get more people in the mix” to back a deal to curb the growth in entitlement spending while rewriting the tax code.
“What I see from the president is probably the most encouraging engagement on a big issue that I’ve seen since the early years of his presidency,” Graham said. “He wants to do the big deal.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said, “I wish he’d done more of that over the years.”
Collins said Obama left the impression “that he is sincere in wanting the two parties to come together.”
“He seems for the first time to be willing to exercise some political leadership on it,” she said. Collins said that early in Obama’s first term, he “regularly” called her, though “then there was a real fall-off in communication.”
White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters Tuesday that Obama would continue calling lawmakers to try to build support for a plan to trim the deficit.
The White House is committed to “addressing entitlement reform in a very serious way” and rewriting the tax code, Carney said. He said both parties generally agree with those goals.
Asked whether Obama is seeking a so-called grand bargain in his talks with Republican lawmakers, Carney wouldn’t provide details about individual conversations.
Two Republican senators that Obama called over the weekend -- Corker and Portman -- declined to give details about their conversations with the president other than to say they were optimistic that a broad deal is possible.
Portman said he sees “a window of opportunity between now and the end of the summer,” when Congress is projected to again have to raise the federal debt ceiling.
“This is the last best chance to do the right thing,” Portman said.
Corker called his conversation with the president “constructive.” He said it was unclear whether a renewed effort to strike a grand bargain would gain any real traction.
“I don’t know - that’s the bottom line,” Corker said.
Republican Idaho Senator Mike Crapo said Tuesday in an interview that White House officials had contacted him to schedule a call with Obama. He was part of a bipartisan group known as the “Gang of Six” that worked in 2011 and 2012 to craft a grand bargain for deficit reduction.
Crapo said he remained opposed to any revenue increase that doesn’t include a tax overhaul.
“We have to reform the tax code, rather than just look at some way to raise revenue in order to generate a greater foundation for more spending,” he said.
Coburn, another Republican member of the now-defunct bipartisan group, said he too received a call from Obama. While he remains open to working with Democrats on a deficit-reduction plan, the call “has not shaped” his perspective significantly, Coburn said.
© Copyright 2016 Bloomberg News. All rights reserved.