Obama, House GOP Miles Apart

Obama meets with House Republicans, but fails to make headway.


President Obama's meeting with his Republican adversaries in the House did the opposite of what he intended. Instead of bringing the two sides closer, the session illustrated how far apart they remain on budget policy and other issues. And the meeting suggested that it will be just as difficult as ever to break the current partisan stalemate in Washington.

Obama's charm offensive will continue, largely because his recent harsh attacks on the GOP have been counterproductive.

[READ: Grand Bargain on Deficit a Long Shot]

 Recent polls have shown a decline in Obama's job approval ratings since he began his attacks on the GOP several weeks ago over who is responsible for the automatic spending cuts, known as sequestration, now being phased in.

But Obama's meeting with majority House Republicans Wednesday didn't achieve any breakthroughs, either. Obama favors a combination of more tax increases and some spending cuts to reduce the deficit. The House Republicans favor no tax increases and sharper spending cuts.

President Barack Obama speaks at the Organizing for Action dinner in Washington, Wednesday, March 13, 2013.
President Obama's proposed budget would reportedly cap returns on high-end retirement accounts.

Even more fundamentally, Obama isn't trying to balance the budget over the next decade, as the Republicans are. Instead, he wants to focus on expanding the economy in other ways, and this remains a source of contention.

[READ: Top 5 Political Takeaways from the Differing Budget Proposals]

"Our biggest problems in the next 10 years are not deficits," Obama told the GOP in their private meeting, according to the New York Times. And this generated consternation among conservative representatives such as California Rep. Darrell Issa, who said this statement alone showed how far apart the two sides remain and how elusive any "grand bargain" still is.

Even before he went to Capitol Hill on Wednesday, Obama had told ABC News, "Ultimately, it may be that the differences are just too wide. It may be that ideologically, if their position is, 'We can't do any revenue,' or, 'We can only do revenue if we gut Medicare or gut Social Security or gut Medicaid,' if that's the position, then we're probably not going to be able to get a deal."

Even some Democrats are second-guessing the president's approach, and aren't sure what he'll do next. In the fall election, Obama ran against the politically flawed Republican nominee Mitt Romney, says political scientist Bill Galston of the Brookings Institution. "Now it's Obama being Obama, and Obama isn't doing too well."

[READ: Democrats Fret Over Obama Poll Numbers]

Galston says that in the months after the election, "the administration felt that by hitting hard they could break the House majority and fragment the Senate [GOP] minority."

This didn't work, Galston says. As a result, Obama is now trying outreach, which Galston says may be more productive. But what happens next is open to question, says Galston, who is a former White House adviser to President Bill Clinton.

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  • Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog "Ken Walsh's Washington" for usnews.com, and is the author of "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He can be reached at kwalsh@usnews.com, and followed on Facebook and Twitter.