Lawmakers and the White House are now looking for ways to ease the impact of the "sequester," as the automatic cuts are called, at the same time they seek to prevent a shutdown of federal agencies on March 27.
The legislation that cleared the House on Wednesday on a bipartisan vote would do both, ensuring funding through the Sept. 30 end of the budget year while granting the Pentagon and the Veterans Affairs Department greater flexibility in implementing their share of short-term spending cuts.
The bill now goes to the Senate, where Democrats and the White House are deep in negotiations with Republicans on changes that would give the Homeland Security Department and other domestic agencies the same type of flexibility that the Pentagon would receive in administering the spending cuts.
As the president looks toward longer-term talks on deficit reduction, he is pointedly skipping over the Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, both of whom insist Obama will get no further tax hikes from Capitol Hill. Instead, aides say, Obama is focusing his outreach on lawmakers with a history of bipartisan deal-making and those who have indicated some willingness to support increased tax revenue as part of a big deficit-cutting package.
Along with Corker, the lawmakers in attendance at Wednesday's dinner were Sens. John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, John Hoeven of North Dakota, Dan Coats of Indiana, Richard Burr of North Carolina and Mike Johanns of Nebraska.
Obama advisers say they're hopeful that without the heightened pressure of an imminent fiscal deadline, the president and Republicans can have constructive conversations on a broad deficit-reduction bill that would include concessions from the GOP on tax increases and from Democrats on entitlement programs.
But unless Boehner and McConnell bend on taxes, prospects for a sweeping deficit deal remain dim.
The president will have an opportunity to make his case to GOP leaders next week when he heads to Capitol Hill for separate meetings with the House and Senate Republican conferences. McConnell announced that Obama would attend the GOP Senate policy lunch and Boehner's office said the president would meet with House Republicans Wednesday.
Obama will also meet on Capitol Hill next week with House and Senate Democrats.
Associated Press writers Jim Kuhnhenn and Jim Abrams contributed to this report.
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