Obama to meet with Republican senators over budget

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - US President Barack Obama plans to meet with several Republican senators for dinner on Wednesday as part of his effort to revive talks to tackle the nation's long-term deficit, a congressional aide confirmed.

The dinner is part of Obama's outreach effort as he attempts to cobble together what he calls a "common sense caucus" among lawmakers to help resolve US budget woes and push his legislative agenda.

The New York Times, which first reported the dinner, also said the president plans to make a rare visit to Congress next week for separate meetings with Republicans and Democrats in the Senate and House of Representatives, citing unidentified sources.

It was not clear when Wednesday's meeting, which has not been confirmed by the White House, would take place as Washington braced for heavy snowfall that has already forced a federal government shutdown. The aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity, had no further details.

In recent days, Obama has searched for common ground with senators who in the past have indicated a willingness to compromise on budget issues. The White House on Sunday suggested talks could centre around a broad budget deal that includes new tax revenues as well as reforms to entitlement programmes. These include the Medicare health care programme for the elderly and disabled and Social Security retirement benefits - programmes that are rapidly growing in cost as the population ages.

The list of lawmakers Obama contacted include Republican Senators Bob Corker of Tennessee, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, Rob Portman of Ohio and Susan Collins of Maine, according to the senators or congressional aides. The White House declined to confirm the names.

Coburn will attend Wednesday's dinner, his spokesman said.

The New York Times said about 12 senators would attend.

At the heart of the US fiscal crisis is disagreement over how to rein in the US$16 trillion (S$20 trillion) debt. Obama wants to close the fiscal gap with spending cuts and tax hikes. Republicans do not want to concede again on taxes after doing so in negotiations over the "fiscal cliff" at the New Year. Last Friday marked the start of US$85 billion in across-the-board budget cuts that are to be carried out by Sept 30. It was not clear whether Obama, in his new contacts with Republican senators, was still trying to negotiate a substitute for those cuts.

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