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Obama reaches out to Republicans

world Updated: Mar 12, 2013 01:11 IST
Yashwant Raj

Did they have wine? Jefferson Hotel, which is just a few blocks from the White House, wouldn't say. One of the guests, however, had vegetarian food.

That's all the detail given about a dinner President Barack Obama hosted for a dozen Republican senators last week to break the logjam over spending cuts. The senators too have given away nothing.

The next day President Obama had Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney's running mate and chairman of the powerful House budget committee, over at the White House for lunch.

President Obama is on a charm offensive, reaching out to congressional Republicans whom he had refused to do anything with after his first two years in office.

He had come into office on the promise of changing the way Washington did politics. But he ran into a Republican party that had no intention of cooperating. Then Obama returned in November as a much stronger president, with a verdict, he stated, that approved his performance and endorsed his plans.

A more muscular presidency looked on the cards. And so it played out, with the president getting his way on the talks to prevent the fiscal cliff 2012-end. He also seemed to have won the argument for immigration reform, with Republicans falling in line fearing a further erosion in their equity among electorally significant Hispanics.

But sequestration - jargon for automatic spending cuts starting March 1 - halted Obama's onward march. Though he tried to shift the blame on Republicans - through campaign style events around the country, he couldn't.

The charm offensive began the weekend before the dinner. The Republicans seem pleasantly surprised. "Frankly, I wish he'd done more of that over the years," said Mitch McConnell, Republican leader in the Senate.

Whatever his intentions, the outreach must be welcomed, said former Florida governor Jeb Bush, who may be running for the White House in 2016.

However, to end the automatic spending cuts underway now, the two sides must agree to a deal, which will have to be a mix revenue hike, which Obama wants, and cuts, as Republicans want.