Obama to visit Capitol Hill four times next week
WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama rarely makes the short trip to Capitol Hill from the White House, but next week his motorcade will be tying up traffic on Pennsylvania Avenue as he tries to convince Congress to come to a deficit deal.
Obama will visit Senate Democrats on Tuesday, and meet Republicans in the House of Representatives on Wednesday. On Thursday, he will make two separate trips to the Hill: first to meet Senate Republicans, then later to meet House Democrats.
Other than for his annual State of the Union address, or ceremonial events such as the recent dedication of a statue to civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks, Obama seldom visits lawmakers on the Hill.
But the president is looking for a deal to end two years of fighting over the deficit, and in recent days has shown a new interest in reaching out to rank-and-file lawmakers about his spending and tax reform proposals.
"I think you could view this as an opportunity for the president to engage (in) a new line of communication and an open and constructive dialogue that could contribute to a solution," White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters. "I think it will be a constructive opportunity for dialogue."
Obama had focused on taking his message on the deficit directly to Americans through campaign-like events. But this week, he had dinner with a dozen Republican senators, and lunch with Paul Ryan, the Republican chairman of the House Budget Committee and the party's 2012 vice presidential nominee. Obama has made phone calls to other lawmakers.
The new "schmooze offensive" comes after a bitter fight with congressional leaders over averting the so-called "fiscal cliff" of broad tax increases, and a more recent failure to come to a deal to avoid $85 billion in automatic spending cuts that kicked in on March 1.
There is now a brief pause in dire financial deadlines. The government's authority to borrow new money runs out on May 19, but the Treasury Department is expected to take steps to push the deadline to raise the "debt ceiling" to late July or early August.
Lawmakers have said they have four to six months to come to a major deal on cutting spending on social programs and overhauling the tax code to get rid of loopholes.
Obama is pushing for higher taxes on some Americans and wants the revenues earmarked for deficit reduction, while Republicans want to lower tax rates across the board.
Obama's visits will come during a week that House Republicans and Senate Democrats release competing budget blueprints for fiscal 2014. Obama's budget won't come until at least April 8, Defense Department officials have said.
On Friday, Earnest declined to say when the budget would be released, other than to say it will be in the "weeks ahead."