Obama, Ryan to talk agenda

Greg Nash

President Obama will finally sit down with Speaker Paul RyanPaul RyanOvernight Defense: GOP leaders express concerns after 9/11 veto override | Lawmakers press for Syria 'plan B' | US touts anti-ISIS airstrikes Overnight Finance: Lawmakers float criminal charges for Wells Fargo chief | Scrutiny on Trump's Cuba dealings | Ryan warns of recession if no tax reform Overnight Healthcare: Watchdog says ObamaCare program made illegal payments MORE (R-Wis.) on Tuesday to figure how much — or how little — they can accomplish together during the president’s final year in office. 

Despite being elected Speaker more than three months ago, Ryan has not yet had a formal meeting with Obama, who memorably dressed down Ryan’s budget in an April 2011 economic speech attended by the then-Budget Committee chairman.

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The president and new Speaker will hold a private lunch, and separately huddle in the Oval Office with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellObama administration officials ramp up push for Pacific pact Overnight Defense: GOP leaders express concerns after 9/11 veto override | Lawmakers press for Syria 'plan B' | US touts anti-ISIS airstrikes Overnight Finance: Lawmakers float criminal charges for Wells Fargo chief | Scrutiny on Trump's Cuba dealings | Ryan warns of recession if no tax reform MORE (R-Ky.) on Tuesday.

Such a meeting typically would attract more fanfare, but the political world’s focus is on Iowa, where the 2016 presidential campaign officially began Monday night with the state’s caucuses. 

Obama remains eager to add to his list of achievements before he leaves the White House. But in order to do that, he’ll need cooperation from both GOP leaders, who have sometimes been at odds over the year’s agenda.

The meeting comes a week after the Democratic leaders in the House and Senate, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, met with Obama at the White House. 

And it comes in absence of an elusive “bourbon summit” between McConnell and Obama. White House press secretary Josh Earnest said last week that would have to wait for another time. 

Here are the issues the trio plan to discuss, according to White House and congressional aides: 

Trade 

Obama wants Congress to approve the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, so expect the president to pressure the GOP leaders to take a vote on the pact by the end of summer. 

He’ll need to make a hard sell to McConnell, who warned Obama late last year he would risk defeat of his signature trade pact if he pushes for passage before the 2016 elections. 

McConnell has yet to endorse the 12-nation agreement and has expressed concerns with language that would give foreign countries a greater ability to regulate tobacco products, a major export from his home state of Kentucky. 

He hasn’t changed his stance over the past few weeks, despite pleas for a vote from business groups. 

“This is a priority and I'm confident that the strongest political allies of Leader McConnell here in Washington are excited about the prospect of the Trans-Pacific Partnership being ratified as soon as possible,” Earnest said. 

Ryan, on the other hand, has expressed openness to a vote before Congress leaves for its recess in July. 

It’s crucial for Obama to secure support from both GOP leaders because he will need to rely on Republicans to approve the trade deal. He faces widespread opposition from congressional Democrats, who say the deal would ship jobs overseas and damage the environment. 

Criminal justice reform 

Like trade, lawmakers in both parties back an overhaul of the nation’s sentencing laws but the initiative faces serious stumbling blocks in Congress. 

Ryan has indicated he wants to move forward in the House with a package that could reduce prison sentences for many nonviolent drug offenders. But McConnell has been noncommittal about a Senate vote that could divide his conference in an election year. 

That has put the Senate leader at odds with his top deputy, Sen. John Cornyn , who strongly supports the effort. But even the Texas senator seemed to recognize the long odds of passage. 

“I am hopeful, but I don't think it's critical we do it this year,” he told The Associated Press last week. 

Heroin abuse

The odds are higher that Congress tackles the issue of drug addiction. 

Voters have raised how the heroin epidemic has devastated their families with presidential candidates countless times on the campaign trail.

“The failure to do so effectively has had a pretty negative impact on communities large and small all across the country,” Earnest said of the fight against heroin addiction. “There should be some work that Democrats and Republicans can do together in Capitol Hill.”

McConnell has pressed the Senate Judiciary Committee to produce legislation addressing the issue and Ryan has urged action as well. 

War on terror

This is where the discussion could really get contentious. 

Ryan plans to press Obama on his administration’s decision to change a visa entry program for foreign tourists, according to a person familiar with his plans.

The Department of Homeland Security recently announced changes to its visa waiver program, which allows citizens from 38 countries to enter the U.S. without a visa. But the agency will offer case-by-case exemptions to certain foreign nationals who have traveled to Iran for business purposes. 

Republicans reacted with anger, saying Obama broke a new law designed to close a loophole that could allow European nationals involved with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) to travel to the U.S. The White House has defended the moves as legal. 

The Speaker may also raise his objections to the president’s forthcoming plan to close the military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. 

Obama is expected to release a new proposal to shutter the facility, a bid to fulfill a 2008 campaign promise before leaving office. But the move faces staunch opposition among Republicans, and some Democrats on Capitol Hill. 

Earnest said he “wouldn't rule out a discussion” about a war authorization to fight ISIS overseas. 

Lawmakers in both parties have pressed their colleagues to officially approve the U.S. war against the extremist group, but the two parties have clashed over specific language for more than a year. 

Cancer

Obama will urge Ryan and McConnell to approve funding for Vice President Biden’s “moonshot” push find a cure for cancer. 

The White House is asking Congress for $755 million in next week’s budget to fund research efforts at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). That’s on top of $195 million for new cancer work given to the NIH under last year’s bipartisan budget deal. 

Most items in Obama’s budget are likely to be dead on arrival on Capitol Hill, but the president is hoping this isn't one of them. 

Puerto Rico 

The president plans to discuss possible fixes to Puerto Rico’s fiscal woes. 

Ryan has said he wants a bill by the end of March, something the White House has pressed lawmakers on for months. But it’s not clear what the proposal will include.

The House Natural Resources Committee, which oversees U.S. territories, is holding a hearing Tuesday on setting up a financial control board to help restructure the island’s massive debt, an idea also backed by the Obama administration. 

But there are partisan divisions on other issues, including additional transfer payments and allowing the island to file for Chapter 9 bankruptcy. 

Obama also discussed the issue at the House Democrats’ annual retreat last week and behind closed doors at the White House with Reid and Pelosi. 

Scott Wong contributed to this story.