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Thursday, March 07, 2013

Avoiding future train wrecks by going around Republican leadership

The Hill:

Senate Republicans are more optimistic about the prospect of a grand bargain on the deficit after an intimate dinner with President Obama Wednesday evening in downtown Washington.

Obama and a dozen Republicans discussed a range of issues during a nearly two-hour meal at the Jefferson Hotel, focusing mostly on the budget, the issue that most divided them in the last Congress.

GOP senators say no new policy ground was broken as both sides held fast to their battle-tested positions on taxes and spending, but the meeting helped thaw frosty relations and improve the prospects of a deal eventually.

“I think really what he is trying to do is start a discussion and kind of break the ice and that was appreciated,” said Sen. Mike Johanns (Neb.), one of twelve Republicans who broke bread with Obama. “Most of the meeting was spent on budget and [finding] a way forward. His goal is ours. We want to stop careening from crisis to crisis.”

As I pointed out last night, this dinner meeting was notable more for who wasn’t there than who was: there were no place settings marked “Mitch McConnell” or “John Boehner.” Nor “Paul Ryan” or “Eric Cantor,” for that matter. House Republicans and Senate minority leader McConnell have pretty much proven they have no interest in negotiating anything ever, so screw ‘em. The White House won’t even try. Instead, the President will take the leadership reins from those idle hands and try to get this mule team going himself.

In short, this isn’t so much about swinging a budget deal, as much as it’s about changing the dynamic in Washington in a profound way. If he gets a deal by engaging rank and file Senate Republicans, GOP leadership becomes more than a little irrelevant. If he comes close but fails to close the deal, the effect is nearly the same.

“Such gambits drive some Democrats crazy, partly because they don’t see their utility and partly because they fear Obama will triangulate them and make a deal involving ‘entitlement reforms’ they oppose,” writes Ed Kilgore. “But if Obama is simply giving Senate Republicans and the public at large a chance to think about what life would be like if one of our two major parties had not been conquered by ideologues, the price he’s paying may be no higher than the dinner tab.”

[photo via born1945]

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