Morning Action: Obama Wooing Republicans

CHARM OFFENSIVE.  In search of a big, second-term budget deal, President Obama has begun reaching out to a handful of Republicans in what Bloomberg dubs a “shift.”  Senators Tom Coburn (R-OK), Susan Collins (R-ME), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), John McCain (R-AZ), and Rob Portman (R-OH) are targets of Obama’s latest charm offensive:

President Barack Obama’s latest push for a bipartisan deficit-reduction accord that includes tax increases has a new focus: Rank-and-file congressional Republicans.

After saying March 1 at the White House that he would seek “a caucus of common sense on Capitol Hill,” Obama called about a half-dozen Republican senators to court their support for reducing the deficit through a mix of tax increases and changes to entitlement programs.

The calls represent a shift in approach for Obama, who in fiscal talks with Republicans since 2011 has negotiated mainly with Boehner and McConnell. Rank-and-file Republican lawmakers had complained that Obama didn’t try to engage with them.

SEQUESTER.  CBS reports the Obama administration is struggling to illustrate pain from sequester:

Most Americans are not directly affected by these cuts, however, which is why the administration has sought to put the focus on issues like air travel that have a broader reach. But while officials expect increases in delays as overtime is reduced, hiring is frozen and air traffic controllers are furloughed due to the sequester, the impact will be gradual. In its zeal to make the case for a more immediate impact than seems to have happened, the administration may have made it harder to undo the cuts down the road…

It’s worth noting that in his Friday news conference, Mr. Obama seemed to be trying to temper some of the strong warnings that his administration had pushed. He said the sequester is “dumb” but “is not going to be an apocalypse,” adding that it will hurt people but probably not cause a “huge financial crisis.” 

SHUTDOWN. Despite the wintry mix blanketing Washington, the House is scheduled to vote on a bill to fund the government for the remainder of the fiscal year, a goal shared by President Obama.

The Obama administration and congressional Republicans are quietly working in tandem to blunt the impact of short-term spending cuts that kicked in with dire White House warnings a few days ago, with both sides eager to pocket the full savings for deficit reduction as they pivot to a new clash over Medicare. 

The overall size of the cuts remains in place: $85 billion in reductions through the end of the budget year on Sept. 30, half from defense and half from domestic programs as diverse as education, parks and payments to doctors and hospitals treating Medicare patients. 

But legislation drafted by House Republicans to prevent a government shutdown on March 27 also gives the Pentagon and the Veterans Affairs Department flexibility to allocate cuts that no agency currently has. A vote on the measure was arranged for Wednesday.

WAR. Despite the best efforts of Secretary of State John Kerry and his top attaché Dennis Rodman, North Korea remains extremely hostile towards America.

North Korea said on Tuesday that it would cut off a hot line with the United States military in South Korea, calling the truce that stopped the Korean War in 1953 null and void and threatening to strike the United States with “lighter and smaller nukes.”

“As we have already declared, we will take second and third countermeasures of greater intensity against the reckless hostilities of the United States and all the other enemies,” the supreme command of the North’s Korean People’s Army said in a statement carried by the country’s state-run Korean Central News Agency. “They had better heed our warning.”

MEDICARE.  One day after news reports suggested House Republicans were willing to adjust the timing of the Medicare reform, it appears whining from moderates caused them to back down.

Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget is now expected to exempt seniors 55 years old and above from his Medicare overhaul — despite his personal preference to raise that age to 56 — according to several GOP sources familiar with his plans.

 Ryan has been toying this winter with the idea of bumping the age exemption from 55 to 56 – a move that would have been intended to help prepare Republicans for more drastic future measures to save the health insurance program for the elderly. But moderates within the GOP would’ve balked at that prospect, after having told voters for several years that they won’t touch the program for folks 55 and older.

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