As both parties forge forward with work on two separate - and deeply distinct - budget proposals, President Obama was back on Capitol Hill Thursday in an ongoing effort to smooth over any ruffled feathers that might be blocking the way toward a "balanced" bipartisan budget deal.
Mr. Obama, who spent Wednesday afternoon in House Republican territory, stopped in today on both Senate Republicans and House Democrats, presumably in pursuit of the kind of goodwill that could help him facilitate a budget deal that will be palatable to Democrats.
"He impresses everybody with his knowledge of the issues," Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., told reporters today, in advance of the president's appearance, when asked about the nature of the closed-door meetings. He predicted that, after today's assembly, the "vast, vast majority" of Senate Republicans would say, "he's a very nice man and he's extremely smart."
Smart and nice or not, Mr. Obama has a long way to go before there's any hope of getting Republicans on board with his own vision for a budget: Even as he pops in for luncheons and rap sessions with various lawmakers on Capitol Hill, Congress members on both sides of the aisle are working up very different, at times diametrically opposed blueprints for funding the government.
The House GOP proposal would balance the federal budget in 10 years by restricting future annual increases in spending to a maximum of 3.4 percent, down from the current 4.9 percent, overhaul Medicare and implement widespread non-defense discretionary cuts. Democrats, meanwhile, introduced a plan that would net almost an additional $1 trillion in revenue, secured by closing tax loopholes that primarily benefit wealthier Americans and corporations, while levying targeted spending cuts in roughly the same amount.
Neither party sees much to write home about in the rival team's plan: In remarks on the Senate floor this morning, Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., argued the Democrat-sponsored bill would "do more to harm the economy than to help it, and it will let Medicare and Social Security drift closer to bankruptcy."
"And then there's the Democrats' $1.5 trillion tax hike. Trillion with a T. Let me just repeat that: Any Senator who votes for that budget is voting for a $1.5 trillion tax hike, the second-largest in the history of our country," he added. "So the Senate Democrat budget is more than just disappointing: it's extreme. It's really one of the most extreme, most left-wing budgets of the modern era."
Democrats have been no more complimentary about the GOP blueprint, penned by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., the former vice presidential nominee and notorious deficit hawk who has become famous for his annual, controversial budget plans.
This afternoon, Senate Democrats marked up their own budget proposal, which its author, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., touted as reflective of "the pro-growth, pro-middle-class agenda that the American people went to the polls and supported last November."
"You have to say this for Congressman Paul Ryan: He is consistent," said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., in a press conference today, with regard to Ryan's plan. "Unfortunately, being consistently wrong doesn't earn you any points when it comes to helping senior citizens across America."
Despite the divide, Republicans were cautiously optimistic after their luncheon with the president.
In remarks to reporters, McConnell characterized the lunch as a "great meeting" and suggested that he and Mr. Obama are more or less on the same page about corporate tax reform. He also said the president agreed with him that "you can't fix the country without addressing entitlements to fit the demographics of our country."
"Most of the meeting was really about fiscal issues and there were some other issues brought up and other kind of things," said Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., in an interview with CBS News. "But the central discussion was about the fiscal issue. And we all know that's what these meetings are about. These meetings are not about anything but one thing and that is - you know - is there going to be a way to get to fiscal resolve between now and let's say the first of August. "
In his meeting with House Democrats later in the afternoon, Mr. Obama acknowledged he would be willing to look at chained CPI for Social Security if we can "do it in a smart way, an intelligent way," that protects the most vulnerable. He also said he was optimistic on immigration reform and gun safety and that, with regard to the budget negotiations, he wants a balanced approach with "judicious cuts" and solutions to long term problems.
And while the Democratic meeting may have been "a little more raucous than" the Republican luncheon, according to Corker, Democrats affirmed afterward that Mr. Obama is sincere in his outreach efforts.
"His message to the members of the House Democratic Caucus was we're ready, let's work hard, let's get this done and do it in a way we bring americans to the table to vote for better economy," said Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Calif.