Obama 'Genuinely Reaching Out' to Republicans, Two of Them Say

March 11, 2013 - 6:20 AM

jefferson dinner

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., left, Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., second left, Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and others leave after a private dinner with President Barack Obama at the Jefferson Hotel in Washington, Wednesday, March 6, 2013. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

(CNSNews.com) - Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) says President Obama "is moving in the right direction" by meeting with Republicans in search of bipartisan solutions to the nation's problems: "I'm proud of him for doing it, but it shouldn't be news," Coburn told NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday.

"I think he gets it, and I think he's genuinely reaching out," said Coburn, who was one of the 12 Republican senators invited to dine with President Obama last Wednesday. "I think the president is tremendously sincere. I don't think this is just a political change in tactic. I think he actually would like to solve the problems of the country, and it would be to his benefit and, certainly, to every American's benefit if he did that."

And on ABC’s “This Week,” Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said he thinks “most Republicans are more than willing to work with this president."

Coburn said if Obama quits poking his finger in Republicans' eyes and starts building relationships with them, "I think he's got a great chance to accomplish a big deal."

Coburn also told NBC's David Gregory that the problem in Washington isn't disagreement -- it's too much agreement:

"So, look, the real problem, David, is Washington is dysfunctional, but it's dysfunctional in a dysfunctional way. Members of Congress and the administration agree on too much: We agree on spending money we don't have; we agree on not oversighting the programs that should be oversighted. We agree on continuing to spend money on programs that don't work or are ineffective."

As for last week's meeting with Obama, Coburn said he learned that the president is going to start explaining to the American people about entitlement reform: "I mean, we all know you put in $1 for Medicare and get out $3.30. We understand that. But nobody has ever talked to the American public about that, and nobody has led on that issue as far as our president wanting to change it."

Sen. Johnson told ABC's "This Week with "George Stephanopoulos" that the Republican senators' dinner meeting with Obama last week was honest, frank and complete:

"President Obama opened it up, really prioritizing the problems. Certainly, made the point that it's health care, it's Medicare.

“But one interesting point he made is that, you know, the problem with Medicare is about a dollar of every -- basically, Americans paying a dollar, but they get more than $3 out in benefits. He said people generally don't understand that. They think that money is theirs.

“The point I made to him is, you know, Mr. President, you are in a unique position to be able to make sure the American people understand that. We're not going to be able to solve these very difficult problems unless we start laying the groundwork and preparing the American people for the solutions.”

Johnson said he got a call from Obama's chief of staff over the weekend to discuss "what we need to do" to move forward: "So you know, I'll certainly give the president the benefit of the doubt."

"I think most Republicans are more than willing to work with this president," Johnson said.

Julianna Goldman of Bloomberg News told Stephanopoulos that to achieve what Washington calls a "grand bargain" on deficit reduction, Republicans are going to have to accept higher taxes and Democrats are going to have to accept entitlement reforms.

"Listen, unless we do something, these programs are going broke,” Johnson said. “It drives me nuts when I hear people say that Social Security is solvent until the year 2035. It's not. In the next 20 years, it'll be $5.1 trillion more in benefits than bringing in payroll taxes.”