House Dems, Obama hash out to-do list over dinner

AP News
Posted: May 08, 2013 10:59 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) — The top Democratic leaders in the House hashed out their to-do list Wednesday at a suppertime powwow with President Barack Obama.

At an upscale hotel blocks from the White House, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and her deputies joined Obama for a meal that lasted about 2 1/2 hours. The themes discussed — immigration, gun control, deficit reduction and the budget — read like a rundown of the toughest and most vexing issues Congress is attempting to address.

"People were upbeat. Everybody wanted to rise to the challenge of addressing these issues," Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, said in an interview after the dinner. "People are clear-eyed and realistic about the challenges on both the policy and political front."

He said another topic was Obama's health care law — a point of pride for Democrats, but also an ongoing challenge as critical parts of the law start to be implemented. Republicans continue to work to repeal the law. The investigation into the Boston Marathon bombings also came up, the White House said.

Wednesday's session with House Democrats crossed off another entry on Obama's congressional dance card. Frustrated by the lack of compromise during his first term, Obama soon after his re-election embarked on an ongoing campaign to forge stronger ties with lawmakers in hopes of setting the table for deal-making in the future.

In recent weeks, Obama has held similar dinners with Senate Democrats, Senate Republicans and a bipartisan group of female senators. He's also hosted Van Hollen and his Republican counterpart, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, for lunch at the White House. And on Monday, Obama devoted the afternoon to a golf outing with a trio of senators — two Republicans, one Democrat.

The Keystone XL pipeline, which Republicans want green-lighted but many Democrats are urging Obama to block, came up Wednesday only in passing. And while Obama made clear he wants Democrats to reclaim the majority in the House, politics didn't dominate the discussion.

Rep. Steve Israel, who chairs the House Democrats' campaign committee, took to Twitter after the dinner to say they had "discussed ideas to build an economy that works for middle class and people aspiring to get to middle class."

The Democratic National Committee said earlier Wednesday that it was planning to pick up the tab for the dinner, where lawmakers ordered off the hotel restaurant's menu. Obama has personally covered the cost for some similar meals in the past.