Obama talks budgets, grand bargains, drones, immigration with Senate Democrats

Alexis Levinson Political Reporter
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WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama talked about budgets, immigration policy, drones, foreign policy and grand bargains in a meeting Tuesday with Senate Democrats on Capitol Hill.

The meeting took place the day that House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan introduced his budget, and one day before Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray is set to introduce her budget. As a result, the discussion in was “a lot of budget issues, obviously,” Michigan Sen. Carl Levin told reporters after the meeting.

“He has a very upbeat message,” Levin said of the president. “He thinks it’s very important that we solve these problems together, and he says that working together with the Republicans in terms of getting a grand bargain or a major dent in this issue is critically important.”

“Compromise is essential, and he hasn’t seen enough of it from then yet, but he’s going to continue trying,” Levin said.

Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin said that one place where compromise was essential, in the president’s mind, was on solving the sequester.

“I think the president’s response is the way out of the sequester is some kind of a grand bargain … so what I interpreted it as is if Republicans want to get out of the sequester, they just have to come and meet us halfway on a grand bargain. If they don’t, well then they’re going to be responsible for keeping the sequester in place,” Harkin told reporters.

He said Obama did not specify a revenue goal for such a grand bargain.

The discussion of the new Ryan budget focused on the $5 trillion of unspecified cuts included therein.

“Boy, are we going to have fun with OK, what are those $5 trillion in unspecified cuts?” Harkin said.

“I think he just asked, ‘Can someone please tell me where that $5 trillion in unspecified cuts is coming from?'” Harkin said of Obama’s comments on the Ryan budget.

Obama was also optimistic about immigration, Harkin said.

“I think he was very positive. He thinks we’re making good movement on immigration, and I think he feels very positive that we’re actually going to a good immigration bill,” Harkin said.

On drones, Harkin said, “The president said that they’re doing everything they can to comply with the law and to give information to members of the Intelligence Committee, and he said they would continue on that.”

“That’s as I remember,” Harkin couched, saying he had been more focused on other issues.

Obama has been criticized for not making overtures to members of congress during his time in office, and the motives for his recent so-called “charm offensive,” a spate of meetings with members of both houses and on both sides of the aisle have been questioned.

Harkin said the meetings were good for both Republicans and Democrats.

“Well I think it’s good on both sides. … He’s here today reinforcing that we’re going to be willing to cooperate, but we’re not going to go so far as to negotiate away our principles and what we think is best,” Harkin said.

New York Sen. Chuck Schumer vehemently pushed back on the idea that the meeting was more fashion than function.

“No, no. The president’s done this regularly with our caucus and, look, he just did it a month and a half ago at our retreat. And it’s always very helpful. The relationship between the White House and the Democratic Senate caucus is extremely great and continues to be in part because of regular meetings like this,” he told reporters after the meeting.

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