President Obama is seeking to push Republicans to work with him on a grand deficit bargain by first assuring them he’s willing to cut entitlements, and then attempting to scrape off enough of them who will in turn agree to raise new revenues.
House Republicans emerged from a rare meeting with Obama on Wednesday afternoon saying he assured them he was serious about cutting programs like Social Security and Medicare in order to reduce the long-term deficit.
“It was a really great first step,” said Rep. Reid Ribble (R-WI). “He did express a willingness to give on entitlements.”
“He focused a lot on entitlements,” said Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL).
Other Republicans expressed similar sentiments to reporters as they exited the meeting. Some voiced frustration at his insistence that safety net cuts be paired with new tax revenues — that central division remains, as senior Republicans still aren’t willing to go there. Yet others signaled that they did not trust him to follow through.
Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and House Budget Chair Paul Ryan (R-WI) said they still oppose new revenues but the president’s face-to-face exchange was important.
“We had a very frank and candid exchange of ideas, and frankly I think it was productive,” Boehner told reporters. “I hope that these kinds of discussions can continue. Even though we have very real differences, our job is to find common ground to do the work the American people sent us here to do.”
The two major entitlement reforms Obama has publicly proposed so far include cutting future Social Security benefits — a reform known as Chained CPI — and making higher income Americans pay a bigger share of their Medicare premiums.
“He wanted us to believe he’s serious” about being willing to scale back the safety net, said Ribble. “There was nothing in there to make me believe he wasn’t.”
The meeting comes as progressive advocates and their allies in Congress are increasingly objecting to cuts in safety net benefits under Medicare and Social Security.
Obama, for his part, told reporters that the meeting was useful.
“It was good,” he told reporters as he walked out. “I enjoyed it. It was useful.”
Sahil Kapur is a congressional reporter for TPM. He previously covered politics and public policy for numerous publications including The Guardian and The Huffington Post. He can be reached at sahil [at] talkingpointsmemo.com.