Senate GOP feels jilted after being wined and dined by Obama on deficit talks

Senate Republicans who shared laughs with President Obama over dinner at the Jefferson Hotel in March are grumbling there has since been little follow-through from him on deficit talks.

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They say the White House has not set up a process for negotiating controversial reforms to Social Security, healthcare programs and the tax code, and that absence of basic organization has stalled negotiations.

"We've made no progress. None," said a GOP senator who had dinner with Obama earlier this year. "There's no process in place. Right now we just have 20 Republican senators meeting and talking to themselves."

The lawmaker said Obama needs to sit down regularly with about five or six GOP senators to begin making substantial progress toward a deficit-reduction deal.

A White House spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.

Some Republicans think the president has become distracted from the deficit by intensified public controversies over the attack on the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, the Internal Revenue Service's targeting of Tea Party groups and the Justice Department’s investigation of The Associated Press.

"Those kinds of things can't help but turn the total focus of the deficit reduction away from the White House's perspective,” said Sen. Saxby ChamblissClarence (Saxby) Saxby ChamblissOssoff tests waters for Georgia Senate run CIA's ‘surveillance state’ is operating against us all Juan Williams: GOP plays the bigotry card in midterms MORE (R-Ga.), who had dinner with Obama on March 6 and golfed with him earlier this month.

Chambliss said he and his Republican colleagues have yet to set up a process for hammering out a deficit-reduction package with the White House.

"There is no process in place, that is correct, but there is conversation," he said.

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamPence on border wall: Trump won't be ‘deterred’ by Dem ‘obstruction’ AG pick Barr emphasizes independence from Trump Leaders nix recess with no shutdown deal in sight MORE (R-S.C.), who helped organize the March 6 dinner at the Jefferson Hotel, said that the White House and GOP senators have not gotten to the point of exchanging paper outlining their competing proposals.

“I don’t think anybody’s gotten that far,” he said.

The president and a group of Republicans agreed to begin swapping paper when they met for dinner at the White House in April.

“We’ve been talking about trying to define the problem. Can we all agree what the next 30 years holds in terms of deficits, cost of entitlement programs? How much we’re going to spend, how much revenue we can generate?” Graham added. “It’s nice if you can have a 30-year view of things.”

Some Republicans have become impatient with what has begun to seem like circular talk.

“Everybody knows what the problem is. Everybody knows what the range of solutions to the problems are. Just stand up and lead on it,” said Sen. Tom CoburnThomas (Tom) Allen CoburnThe Hill's Morning Report — Presented by PhRMA — Worries grow about political violence as midterms approach President Trump’s war on federal waste American patients face too many hurdles in regard to health-care access MORE (R-Okla.), who participated in the March 6 dinner.

Coburn agrees with colleagues who say there has been very little progress on deficit-reduction talks with Obama.

“I’d say that’s a fair assessment,” he said.

Obama told Republicans who had dinner with him in March that a deficit deal would need to happen by August.

That timeline has now been pushed until the fall and may even slide to the end of the year.

“Maybe in January,” Coburn said.

Treasury Secretary Jack LewJacob (Jack) Joseph LewOvernight Finance: US reaches deal with ZTE | Lawmakers look to block it | Trump blasts Macron, Trudeau ahead of G-7 | Mexico files WTO complaint Obama-era Treasury secretary: Tax law will make bipartisan deficit-reduction talks harder GOP Senate report says Obama officials gave Iran access to US financial system MORE took some of the pressure off earlier this month by alerting Congress that the nation’s debt ceiling would not have to be raised until after Labor Day.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates the debt ceiling does not have to be lifted until October or November.

Democrats say one problem is that Obama has had difficulty finding Republicans with the authority to negotiate on behalf of their party.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOn The Money: Shutdown Day 25 | Dems reject White House invite for talks | Leaders nix recess with no deal | McConnell blocks second House Dem funding bill | IRS workers called back for tax-filing season | Senate bucks Trump on Russia sanctions Mellman: Why does the GOP persist? Leaders nix recess with no shutdown deal in sight MORE (Ky.) and Republican Whip John CornynJohn CornynTrump created a competition of crises: The border or the shutdown Senators restart shutdown talks — and quickly hit roadblocks Former GOP rep: We would be 'storming the White House' if Obama mulled national emergency MORE (Texas) face reelection in 2014. Although a credible conservative challenger has yet to emerge against either one, they remain cautious.

Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerHouse vote fails to quell storm surrounding Steve King House passes resolution condemning white nationalism GOP leaders strip Steve King of committee assignments MORE (R-Ohio) declared at the beginning of the year that he was finished with negotiating one-on-one with Obama.

White House officials say the president made a good-faith offer toward compromise when he proposed adopting the chained consumer price index to curb the growth of Social Security benefits in his budget plan.

Hopes for a broad bipartisan deal to cut the deficit are waning.

“I think the dinners were about two years too late,” said Jim Kessler, senior vice president for policy at Third Way, a centrist Democratic think tank.

Kessler said multiple factors have eroded the political will to tackle the deficit this year.

The CBO has reduced its deficit projection for this year by about $200 billion to $642 billion.

Two prominent Harvard economists, Carmen Reinhart and Ken Rogoff, have admitted making errors in an influential paper projecting the drag of high debt-to-GDP ratios on future economic growth.

The errors undermined a study Republicans frequently invoked when calling for deficit reduction.

Republicans have also ruled out raising additional tax revenues after agreeing to raise $620 billion in taxes as part of the year-end fiscal cliff deal.