Senate GOP concludes meeting with Obama

Senate Republicans met with President Obama for more than 90 minutes on Friday, as lawmakers search for a breakthrough agreement that could end the government shutdown and raise the debt ceiling.

Like House Republicans the night before, the GOP senators departed the White House without speaking to reporters.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) tweeted shortly after the meeting that it was a "very good discussion."

"Nothing obvious decided, but hope," he tweeted. "I'm surprised there may be progress."

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The meeting followed a new offer from House Republicans that would set up a vote to temporarily extend the debt ceiling and start negotiations to end the government shutdown, now entering its 11th day.

Some Senate Republicans are uncomfortable with that plan and want to ensure the government reopens quickly. The GOP has taken a public relations blow from the shutdown, and has seen its approval ratings fall dramatically in several polls. 

“I don’t know in what world we are faring well under the shutdown, either in terms of policy or politics,” Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) said after the meeting. 

Two polls from Gallup and NBC News and The Wall Street Journal released in the last two days found that the favorability of the Republican Party had sunk to an all-time low.

The NBC survey on Thursday found that a higher percentage of voters blamed Republicans for the shutdown than during the last government closures in 1995 and 1996.

Flake said Obama pressed for a longer debt-ceiling extension than the one offered by the House, and expressed an openness to changes to ObamaCare — but not while the government remained shut and the debt-ceiling issue was unresolved.

“He said there’s individual things could improve the act, not gut it, that he’d look at, but obviously not in this context,” Flake said. 

One topic that received a lot of discussion was the idea of eliminating a tax on medical devices that has been unpopular in both parties. 

Flake said that issue was unresolved, but Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said Obama expressed an interest in her proposal, which would do away with the tax. 

Flake also said Senate Republicans prefer to cut the deal because the House has not proposed ending the government shutdown.

Under the House GOP offer, talks would proceed on two tracks, allowing lawmakers and the White House to negotiate both an immediate reopening of the government and a broader budget deal that would fund the government through 2014 and raise the debt ceiling.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who pushed Republicans into a strategy of risking a government shutdown over demands to defund ObamaCare, also spoke at the meeting with Obama. 

“There was an awful lot of talking and the president still says he won’t negotiate,” Cruz said. “I hope they will see reason, I hope they will come together, fund the government and provide real relief to the millions of Americans who are hurting from ObamaCare. 

“I urged him to do exactly that,” Cruz said.

Not all Republicans were upbeat leaving the meeting.

In a statement, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said that "what could have been a productive conversation was instead another predictable lecture from the President that did not lay out a new path forward."

Senate Republicans have been crafting a rival proposal to the House GOP offer that would include a temporary debt-ceiling increase and a continuing resolution that would keep the government funded for one year at sequestration levels.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) tweeted Friday that "where we are is completely unacceptable."

"We need to resolve this and get the government open and also resolve [the] debt-limit issue," she said. "It's time for all sides to come out of their trenches."

The Senate bill would also repeal ObamaCare's medical device tax and require income verification for the distribution of insurance subsidies under the president's healthcare law.

But that might be a hard sell to Democrats. 

The White House has repeatedly insisted that it will not offer concessions until the debt ceiling is raised and the government is reopened. 

On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said negotiations on a broad budget deal are “not going to happen” before the government reopens after a meeting with the president.



Ayotte said Friday she was "encouraged discussions are happening now" and that "both sides of the aisle are talking."

"[I]
 wouldn't have said that at the beginning of the week," she said.

—
Alexander Bolton and Russell Berman contributed.

This story was posted at 10:07 a.m and updated at 2:35 p.m.