President Obama is making an unusual move to try to win over Senate Republicans: he's having them over for dinner. Obama expressed a renewed desire to deal with the budget deficit for years to come, and to make that happen, he's turning on the charm. The guest list includes Republicans John McCain (Ariz.), Lindsay Graham (S.C.), Kelly Ayotte (N.H.), Bob Corker (Tenn.), Ron Johnson (Wisc.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Pat Toomey (R-Penn.), Tom Coburn (Okla.), Dan Coats (Ind.), Mike Johanns (Neb.), Pat Toomey (Penn.), and John Hoeven (N.D.) according to ABC.
The get-together comes on the heels of the sequester and a subsequent drop in approval ratings for Obama. It makes sense: no one liked the sequester, and enough people blamed the President for it. Now, a grand bargain is seen as one of the only feasible ways forward, especially if Obama continues to insist on new revenues as part of the deal.
Senate Republicans are a logical place to start: House Republicans are farther to the right, less willing to compromise, and a deal involving revenues is politically untenable for Speaker of the House John Boehner right now. However, if Obama can get a giant budget package through the Senate, with a handful of Republicans voting for it, he can count on political pressure pushing John Boehner to put the package up to a vote in the House, where enough Republicans could join Democrats in voting for it to pass.
The presence of McCain, Graham and Ayotte on the guest list is telling: it means that Obama may be willing to include a smoothing out of the defense cuts that went through via the sequester as part of the deal. If he can bring those three defense hawks over to his side (no easy task), he could likely count on the support of moderate Susan Collins (not on the guest list), and then he would only need one more Republican vote.
Is the graind bargain a good move for Obama? Debatable. It may be the only way he can close tax loopholes for the rich, but if he has to give up too much, it might have made more sense to just broker a compromise in which his administration gets more say in how the sequester cuts are meted out.
And hey, at least they're talking to each other. It's sad that that qualifies as good news, but, the fact is that in March 2013, it absolutely does.