© 2024 St. Louis Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Missouri's GOP lawmakers see few concrete results from Obama meetings

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, March 14, 2013 - WASHINGTON -- Republican members of Congress from Missouri said they were glad that President Barack Obama reached out to them on Capitol Hill this week but weren't sure if his "charm offensive" will produce tangible results.

"The president is reaching out, and I think every Republican senator is pleased to see him doing that," U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., told reporters Thursday. But he added, "I don't know that there's much of a thaw" in relations between the White House and congressional Republicans.

Having served in Congress under three presidents, Blunt said Bill Clinton and George W. Bush "both were much better at reaching out to the Congress and trying to have the kind of relationships that could help get things done than President Obama has been."

While Blunt said Obama "is trying, and I'm glad to see that," the Missouri senator added that recent articles have quoted some liberal Democrats as saying "they don't want to do some things the president is telling Republicans he'd like to do. So I'm not sure that it produces a dramatic result."

After Obama had lunch with the Senate GOP caucus on Thursday, Blunt said in a Tweet: "One thing we could agree on" was that "there's a joint sense that the president must lead on hard things."

After Obama met with House Republicans on Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Ballwin, said she was "a little surprised that it took [Obama] this long to come to the Hill and sit down with Republicans and with Democrats. I think he should do it more often. Building relationships and talking face-to-face can make a difference, in terms of getting things done."

Wagner, who represents freshmen in the House GOP leadership, told the Beacon on Thursday that "actions speak louder than words. We'll see if he sincerely wants to work with us, or -- as one of his aides said the evening before the president came to see us -- that this was 'a joke and a waste of his time and ours.'"

While Obama told House Republicans that "he is putting a political agenda aside," Wagner questioned his sincerity. "A few hours after he met with us, he went to the OFA last night to raise money and try to figure out how to win back a [House] majority in 2014 for the Democratic party." (OFA is the Organizing for Action advocacy group, which derived from Obama's former reelection campaign organization.)

U.S. Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-St. Elizabeth, said Obama "was very cordial to us, and we were respectful and cordial back to him. There was some give-and-take, a couple of humorous moments." Wagner said the two sides "talked about common ground, areas where we could work together," with the president mentioning immigration and entitlement reform.

"There were a lot of substantive issues that came up," Wagner said. But she said many congressional Republicans had been upset by what she termed the "shameful" effort to scare Americans about the impact of the sequestration cutbacks. She questioned Obama's sincerity in meeting with Republicans and insisting on further tax increases in a budget deal.

"He kept pressing for revenues and we kept pressing for cuts," said Luetkemeyer, adding that he got the impression that Obama might be willing to "close corporate loopholes but use those dollars to lower the corporate tax rate on a revenue-neutral basis," rather than to fund government spending.

"I had never heard him make that comment before, and he didn't make that commitment on the personal income tax side. Other than that, I don't think there were any new developments."

Blunt, who ranks No. 5 in Senate GOP leadership, said "the Republican Senate leadership . . . has no concern at all with the president reaching out to our members and inviting members to dinner -- and not inviting a single one of the leaders. That's fine. If he wants to do that and develop those relationships, the process will benefit from that."

However,  Blunt told reporters that he was "not ready to believe that the president deciding to come up here and have lunch means that all kinds of big things begin to happen." He did hope, however, that "what the moment will produce is getting back to the regular way of doing business" on budget and appropriations measures.

"There's no shutdown coming, but there is a scaling back [in government] that wouldn't have been necessary if we would have just appropriated and debated how to spend the money at the level that the law allows. I'm optimistic about what's happening this week with the appropriations process.

Possible compromise on immigration?

After the House GOP meeting with Obama, both Wagner and Luetkemeyer came away with the impression that there might be some potential for progress on immigration reform legislation.

"I think immigration reform is something that we're very open to having a dialogue about," Wagner said. "There is room for us to work together on immigration reform and perhaps on issues related to energy and the environment."

Luetkemeyer said Obama "stated his case, that he was there to find ways to identify some common ground . . . I felt that there is some common ground" related to immigration reform and perhaps aspects of entitlement reform.

But the GOP lawmakers said two other major issues -- gun control and moving the federal budget toward balance -- don't appear to be promising areas for compromise.

Wagner, who strongly opposes gun control bills such as an assault weapons ban, said the House is waiting to see what gun legislation is passed by the Democratic-controlled Senate, which seems likely to approve bills to crack down on gun trafficking and perhaps to expand gun registration.

"We will certainly consider whatever bills the Senate sends over" related to gun violence, Wagner said. "We are taking a more comprehensive approach to gun violence," including a focus on bolstering mental health centers and keeping guns out of the hands of mentally ill persons who show violent tendencies.

While sequestration is now requiring the government to reduce spending, House GOP members don't see much progress in efforts to balance the federal budget.

"What we said was, 'Mr. President, we believe there needs to be an acknowledgment that we have to balance our budget. And we want to do it in 10 years,'" said Luetkemeyer.

"And the president wouldn't accept that premise. He said he wanted to try to lower the budget deficit, not saying that he wanted to balance it."

Wagner agreed that Obama "just doesn't think we have a crisis in terms of debt. It is not a priority for him to balance the budget. We talked a good deal about that." She said that was disturbing because House Republicans were taking a "serious, responsible" approach with a budget "that balances within 10 years and that cuts the spending that we need to cut."

Another area of continued disagreement is the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare. Blunt, who voted with every other Senate Republican this week for an unsuccessful amendment to de-fund the Obama health initiative, insisted Thursday that "Obamacare's not going to work. And a lot of Democrats are beginning to join Republicans in that view." He said four Senate Democrats joined Republicans in backing a bill to repeal the ACA's medical device tax.

"Republicans are even more concerned than they were when they opposed it," Blunt said, adding that some Democrats also worry about the eventual costs.

"It's a mistake that I don't see how, during this president's administration, you're going to reverse. But I don't believe this discussion is going to go away, as people learn more and more about the new rules and regulations."