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Are Congress and Obama moving toward a budget deal?

As the public's patience with partisan politics wears thin, signs in Washington indicate possible movement toward bipartisan budget decision-making. The House passed a bill which would fund government programs through this fiscal year on Wednesday. The Senate is expected to pass a similar measure soon. Also on Wednesday, President Barack Obama invited Republican Senators to dinner. 

By David LawderReuters, Richard CowanReuters / March 6, 2013

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., leaves the Jefferson Hotel after a dinner meeting hosted by President Barack Obama for a few Republican Senators in Washington, Wednesday.

AP Photo/Cliff Owen



Legislation easily passed the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday to avert another partisan budget battle and a possible government shutdown, as President Barack Obama also opened new lines of communication with Republicans.

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By a vote of 267-151, the House passed a measure to fund government programs until the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30. The Democratic-controlled Senate is expected to pass a similar bill next week.

Without such legislation, federal agencies would run out of money on March 27.

The bill to continue funding the government without last-minute drama came as Obama took the unusual step of inviting Republican senators to a dinner on Wednesday night at a Washington hotel a few blocks from the White House that lasted about an hour and a half.

An administration official told Reuters Obama was hoping to take advantage of a lull in a series of budget crises to launch a dialogue with Republican lawmakers, which he hopes will lead to a broad deficit-reduction deal.

While the dinner was not intended to be a negotiation, it was an opportunity for Obama to correct the record on a perception among some Republicans that he is unwilling to consider some difficult spending cuts that are unpopular with his fellow Democrats in Congress.

Those could include cuts to programs that include the Social Security pension system and Medicare for the elderly.

Discussion at the dinner was expected to concentrate on budget issues, the official said. Obama will discuss his other legislative priorities, including immigration reform, gun control and tackling climate change, at meetings on Capitol Hill next week.

In another bipartisan gesture, Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said that at his suggestion, Obama will join Republicans for a lunch on Capitol Hill on March 14.

Obama is also due to meet with congressional Democrats next week, the White House said.

The administration and lawmakers offered few details about the dinner, which the White House paid for.

"The president greatly enjoyed the dinner and had a good exchange of ideas with the senators," a senior administration official told reporters.

Asked how the soiree had gone, Senator John McCain told journalists outside the hotel, "Just great. Fantastic."

Attendees included Senators Lindsey GrahamBob Corker, and Kelly Ayotte. Graham drew up the guest list, the White House said.

The meetings between the president and lawmakers, whether or not they produce results, depart from what has been an at best a stand-offish relationship between Obama and Republicans in Congress.

They suggest that Obama and Republicans are getting the message that public patience with Washington is wearing thin. This has become apparent as Americans read of inconveniences they may soon confront at airports and elsewhere as a result of across-the-board cuts to the federal budget that kicked in on Friday after lawmakers and the White House failed to agree on an alternative.

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