US & Canada

Sequester: Obama to dine with Republican senators

US President Barack Obama at the White House, Washington DC 1 March 2013
Obama has said he will not agree to a budget deal unless it includes some revenue increases

US President Barack Obama has dined with a group of Republican senators in an effort to advance budget negotiations, the White House has said.

However, Republican leaders, with whom Mr Obama's budget talks had stalled in recent weeks, were not invited.

The two sides are at odds over how to reduce the US budget deficit, with Republicans firmly resisting tax rises.

The meeting follows their failure last week to avert $85bn (£56bn) in automatic cuts to the federal budget.

'Common sense caucus'

Wednesday's dinner follows several phone calls the president has held in recent days with Republican senators, some of whom have responded warmly to the gesture.

"This is how you solve hard problems," South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham told the Associated Press.

"We're talking about following up on that, how we can get more people in the mix, so what I see from the president is incredibly encouraging."

BBC explainer graphic

It was held at Washington's Jefferson Hotel - a neutral location - for about an hour-and-a-half.

The move suggests Mr Obama hopes to consolidate support among a group of Republicans who appear prepared to negotiate, analysts say.

The president has referred in previous remarks to a "common sense caucus".

He is following the dinner with a lunch at the Capitol with Senate Republicans on 14 March - a rare incursion for the president into hostile territory.

Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate said: "We have numerous challenges facing the country, and Republicans have offered the president serious solutions to shrink Washington spending and grow the economy.

"And we will have an opportunity to discuss them with the president at the lunch."

Mr McConnell also noted the president had not attended a Senate Republican policy lunch since May 2010.

Next deadline

The meetings come days after a series of blunt spending cuts totalling $85bn this fiscal year were written into the federal budget, despite warnings from Mr Obama, his cabinet secretaries and many economists that they could hinder the fragile US economic recovery and cost jobs.

The cuts, known in Washington DC as the sequester, are the result of a deal made in 2011.

They hit both defence programmes beloved by Republicans and domestic programmes valued by Democrats, and were intended to be painful, as a way of prodding Congress to strike a better deal.

Meanwhile, the House of Representatives on Wednesday approved a stop-gap measure to fund US government operations beyond 27 March - when a temporary federal budget passed in 2012 is due to expire.

House Republicans had said they would vote on a bill to fund the government through the end of the fiscal year on 30 September but keep in place some automatic sequester cuts that took effect on Friday.

The bill has now been sent to the Democrat-controlled Senate to be considered.

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