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White House Woos GOP Members for ‘Petite Bargain’

Are we seeing a softer side of the White House? After rhetorically bashing Republicans for weeks over the sequester failed to bring them to the bargaining table, the White House seems to have slightly shifted its tone, if not its aims.

After Friday’s failed confab with congressional leaders at the White House, President Barack Obama spent part of Saturday chatting up GOP lawmakers the White House hopes will build a “caucus of common sense” for a $1.5 trillion deficit-reduction deal, which Press Secretary Jay Carney jokingly referred to Monday as the “petite bargain.”

Carney said in Monday’s briefing that Republicans’ goals would be better served by working with the president.

He noted Republicans want an increase in Defense spending; the sequester will instead cut. Republicans tend to support more border security; the sequester would lead to the opposite. Republicans say they want entitlement reform, but the sequester fails to achieve that. And they want tax reform, but they don’t get that, either.

The president “hopes that having achieved this empty victory, at least as they see it, the Republicans will understand that their goals are being unmet here,” Carney said.

Carney said the roots of what the president wants to do are from House Speaker John A. Boehner’s own offer from the December fiscal cliff talks.

“We’re only asking that the Republicans do what the speaker said he wanted to do just two months ago: Enact tax reform, achieve revenues by closing loopholes for the well-off and the well-connected, and use that money towards deficit reduction, a very conservative goal,” Carney said.

In a sign of just how difficult the Washington environment is these days, Carney declined to say who the president spoke to, noting that information wouldn’t necessarily be helpful to the lawmakers in question.

Carney did engage briefly in the blame game, saying that the White House would have preferred a trigger that included revenues.

“They insisted on a spending-cut-only trigger,” Carney said. “That is what sequester is. It is a spending-cut-only trigger.” He noted that President Ronald Reagan signed a similar trigger into law, and Boehner had said he got 98 percent of what he wanted.

But Carney said that was “all pretty irrelevant.”

He also reiterated that the president wants to avoid a government shutdown at the end of the month, although he stopped short of saying that the president would sign whatever the Republicans pass through the House.

“We’ll see what the Republicans do,” he said.

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