Obama to meet with Hill Democrats today

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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President Barack Obama will meet today with Democratic leaders from the House and Senate, White House spokesman Jay Carney announced at a mid-day press conference.

Carney declined to discuss the meeting’s focus, but said it will happen at 2:50 p.m.

The debt-ceiling debate has exposed cracks in the Democratic coalition, partly caused by the different needs of the president, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and the Democrats’ minority leader in the House, Rep. Nancy Pelosi.

Obama wants a “big” deal from the debt ceiling talks that will showcase his role as a dealmaker in Washington, cut some programs, raise taxes, and even rejuvenate a stalled economy that is dragging down his poll ratings well in advance of the 2012 election. His goal is to persuade swing voters in critical states, such as Florida, that he is aiding the economy and protecting popular government programs.

Reid is battling to save his four-vote majority in the Senate in the face of growing GOP confidence that they will gain at least that many seats in the 2012 election. To keep that majority, Reid wants to protect Democratic Senators in swing states from facing particularly difficult votes, including votes to increase taxes or to raise the debt ceiling.

Nancy Pelosi lost her majority in 2010, and is left with few legislators in danger of defeat in 2012. Her goal is to rally her left-of-center base to pick off Republicans in swing-vote districts. That gives her a strong incentive to oppose any cuts to programs supported by Democrats, especially Medicare. (White House opens door to short-term debt extension)

These different incentives have created cracks in the Democrats’ coalition, forcing senior Democrats to negotiate among themselves while they are also negotiating with the GOP leaders.

For example, Obama said on July 15 that he would accept means-testing with respect to some elements of the Medicare programs. Pelosi strongly opposes that proposal, and a White House official has contacted media to take back part of Obama’s statement. The president, said the official, would only support increased charges for some Medicare services that are already means-tested.