Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 23 October 2014

Tone down attacks, Obama is told

President Barack Obama waves to members of the media as he heads to a meeting with House Democratic Caucus (AP)

Senate Republicans have told President Barack Obama to tone down his political attacks and prod Democratic allies to back controversial changes to a popular health care programme if he wants a compromise on reducing the gaping US deficit.

Both sides described the 90-minute meeting as helpful, though nothing concrete emerged to narrow the partisan divide has hurt efforts to address a series of fiscal crises.

"We're making progress," Mr Obama told reporters before returning to the White House after his third straight day of rare outreach to thaw the frosty relationship.

Ideological differences on how to slash the deficit have left the country wrestling with a blunt 85 billion dollars in budget cuts. Both parties admit the cuts threaten the US economic recovery, but they automatically took effect on March 1 because the two sides could not reach a compromise on an alternative. Democrats have demanded higher taxes, while Republicans want a plan that solely includes spending cuts.

Mr Obama met Senate Republicans and House of Representatives Democrats as Congress made plodding progress on legislation to both cope with the spending cuts and address the next looming crisis - a possible government shutdown over funding at the end of this month.

Both parties have also offered budget proposals in an annual ritual that is mostly political posturing meant to lay out each side's stance on spending.

In the Senate, several Republicans told the president his rhetoric was not conducive to compromise.

"It's better if the president is here fully engaged with us than travelling around the country saying Congress isn't doing its job," Senator John Barrasso told reporters, summarising comments he and others had made.

Senator Lamar Alexander said the message to Mr Obama had been: "Step one is to work with us, not just heckle and taunt us on the campaign trail, and step two is to lead." He said the president must also "go against the grain in his own party".

Participants at the closed-door meeting said Mr Obama acknowledged the point without yielding ground - and noted that Republicans criticised him freely.

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