There’s also the view in the White House that perhaps the GOP leaders are not telling their Republican caucus members exactly what Obama has offered. Throughout the last few budget negotiations, a handful of Republican senators have seemed unaware of the president’s actual positions. The president is now going to take his ideas to them directly. The principle topic is his desire to reach a grand budget bargain based on a deal in which Republicans agree to $600 billion or so in revenue from tax reform and Obama agrees to changes to entitlement programs. Of three possible entitlement changes cited most often — changing the formula used to calculate Social Security payments, raising premiums for wealthy Medicare recipients, and increasing the program’s eligibility age — Obama has agreed to the first two.
White House aides know this outreach is a long shot, but it’s the best approach of all the long shots left to solve the budget impasse. Senate Republicans are more independent and compromise-minded than their Republican House counterparts. For example, 89 percent of Senate Republicans voted yes on fiscal cliff bill at the end of last year, compared with 36 percent of House Republicans. If the president can win a deal in the Senate, he assumes John Boehner will be pressured into at least allowing a House vote on it. Such a measure would probably have to pass with a majority of House Republicans voting against it.
If the president is going to make a deal with Republican senators, he’s going to have to create a pathway for them. That will mean he has to tone down the rhetoric, particularly on blaming Republicans for every ill that might happen as a result of the sequester. Republican senators might be open to a deal, but not if the president is painting their party as a haven for the cruel and unfeeling. At least one administration aide suggests that now that the run-up to sequestration is over, the president will back off, or at least reduce, the attacks. In the end, the measure of the president’s willingness to work with the other side may not be whether has them over for dinner, but whether he stops filleting them.
John Dickerson is Slate’s chief political correspondent and author of “On Her Trail.”