(CBS News) As the Democrat-controlled Senate and Republican-controlled House move forward with rival spending plans, each marking up their budget plans today in the respective chambers' budget committees, President Obama traveled to Capitol Hill this afternoon to catalyze negotiations and attempt to broker a deal.
The president, who has voiced his opposition to the budget recently unveiled by House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., but also reinforced his willingness to broker compromise, met Wednesday afternoon with the House GOP conference to continue feeling out the parameters of an eventual fiscal roadmap.
When he arrived at the conference meeting, Mr. Obama received a standing ovation, reports CBS News' Jill Jackson. The House Republicans' leader, House Speaker John Boehner, also received a "rousing" standing ovation, according to a source in the room.
As the president departed the Capitol, he told reporters that his meeting with Republicans was "useful."
"It was good," he said. "I enjoyed it."
After the meeting, Boehner said that the president and House Republicans "had a very frank and candid exchange of ideas," adding, "Frankly, I think it was productive."
"We know, however, that there are some very real differences between our two parties," he said. "Republicans want to balance the budget; the president doesn't. Republicans want to solve our long-term debt problem; the president doesn't."
Despite the differences, Boehner said, "Today was a good start," expressing his hope that "these kinds of discussions can continue."
During the 90-minute meeting, members told CBS News there were no surprises - one said that "everybody colored inside the lines" - but they were glad that the meeting occurred.
Members tried to discuss balancing the budget; Rep. Markwayne Mullin, R-Okla., said the president "never said he wasn't going to, but never said he would" balance the budget.
Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., told Mr. Obama, "I don't know how your math on deficit reduction works."
In an interview with ABC News Tuesday, the president cautioned that balancing the budget within 10 years, as Ryan proposes, is important but must take a backseat to the overriding imperative of economic growth. "We're not going to balance the budget in 10 years, because if you look at what Paul Ryan does to the budget," he explained, "It means you have to voucherize medicare" and "slash deeply" into other important programs.
"My goal is not to chase a balanced budget just for the sake of balance," he explained. "My goal is how do we grow the economy, put people back to work."
House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., added, "It was good that the president came. It's something that should have happened many times before.
Still, McCarthy noted, the president was asked, "If we're really going to move forward, when can we see his budget?"
House Republicans, for their part, released their own budget on Tuesday. The blueprint, devised by Ryan, would balance the federal budget in 10 years by restricting future annual increases in spending to a maximum of 3.4 percent, down from the current 4.9 percent. As in his previous two budgets, he would also convert the guaranteed benefits of the Medicare program into a private insurance subsidy for people 55 years old and younger.
Critics have accused Ryan of cutting too deeply into the social safety net, but the House Budget Committee chairman stood by his plan today during today's committee markup, saying it "returns government to its proper limit and its proper focus.
Senate Democrats, led by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., introduced their own plan that would net almost an additional $1 trillion in revenue, secured by closing tax loopholes that primarily benefit wealthier Americans and corporations, while levying targeted spending cuts in roughly the same amount. In her opening statement today before the Senate markup, Murray called the Democrats' plan a "balanced and responsible approach" to deficit reduction that would "protect investments" in a strong middle class and institute "responsible spending cuts across the federal budget."
The Senate also pressed forward with a stopgap spending bill known as a continuing resolution to fund the government through Sept. 30, the end of the current fiscal year, and to prevent a government shutdown.
The House passed such a bill last week, though Democrats from the president on down have warned that the House bill, which provides increased flexibility to allow defense spending to avert the more pernicious impacts of the sequester but does not provide similar flexibility for non-defense spending, is not an ideal way to keep the government afloat. Republicans, in turn, have warned that any significant alteration of their bill would jeopardize its chance of being signed before March 27, the day on which current government funding expires.
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