WASHINGTON (AP) — Efforts to stave off a late March government shutdown shifted to the Senate after House Republicans swiftly passed legislation to keep federal agencies running, while also easing some of the effects of $85 billion in budget cuts.
The House legislation, approved Wednesday on a bipartisan vote, is the first step toward averting a possible fiscal showdown this month. If another budget crisis can be avoided, it could clear the way for lawmakers and President Barack Obama to restart talks on a longer-term deficit reduction plan.
That was Obama's focus during a rare dinner with a dozen Republican senators Wednesday night at a hotel near the White House and seemed certain to be Topic A Thursday when Rep. Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee and last year's GOP vice presidential nominee, joins the president for lunch at the White House.
While no real breakthroughs appeared to emerge from Wednesday night's two-hour meal, the mere fact that it happened was significant given the lack of direct engagement between Obama and rank-and-file Republicans over the past two years.
White House and congressional aides said the president and lawmakers had a good exchange of ideas centered on how they could work together to tackle the nation's fiscal problems.
Emerging from the dinner, Sen. John McCain jokingly said the meeting was "terrible," then added that the meal went "just fine" and flashed a thumbs-up.
"It was very constructive," Sen. Bob Corker said Thursday morning. "I think the meeting last night was probably what he (Obama) would consider a very productive and hopeful meeting."
Asked in an appearance on "CBS This Morning" if he thought Obama was trying to do an end-around involving the House and Senate Republican leadership, Corker, R-Tenn., replied, "I don't think the president ever alluded to the fact that he couldn't have those kinds of conversations with the leadership." He called it a "very sincere conversation."