Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill said Tuesday that she had a “lengthy” and “policy-heavy” conversation last week with President Obama, part of an appeal to moderate senators to shape a reasonable budget process.
The phone call between the two Democrats took place as $85 billion in across-the-board budget cuts — the so-called sequestration — began to be set in motion.
Various news outlets have reported that Republicans like Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio and Susan Collins of Maine, as well as Democratic Sen. Max Baucus of Montana, also got calls.
“Hopefully, we can get enough people to come to the middle,” McCaskill said in a conference call with Missouri reporters.
While declining to give details about the call, the Missouri senator said the president wants to find a fiscal path forward that avoids in the short run severe austerity measures that will stall the economy while looking over the long term to find solutions to the nation’s debt.
She also defended Obama for his willingness to give ground on items (means testing in Medicare, cost-of-living changes for entitlements) that have him at odds with members of his own party.
“He has put things on the table that the Republicans are not acknowledging that he has done,” McCaskill said. “He has already stuck his chin out there.”
With the sequestration having gone into effect, the senator doubted any effort would be made to change the amount of the cuts. She insisted, though, that adjustments could make the budget trimming “more strategic and thoughtful.”
Congress faces a March 27 deadline for funding the federal government through the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30. Without agreement on a continuing resolution or some other mechanism, a government shutdown remains possible, though McCaskill calls this unlikely.
“I shouldn’t say this because I was confident the sequestration wouldn’t happen,” she said.
After that, the Democrat said she would welcome a year of normal budget processes, something she has in common with fellow Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt, a Republican.
“We think regular order is the best friend of fiscal sanity at this point,” McCaskill said. “Budgets don’t spend money. The only thing that spends money are appropriations bills.”
Other lawmakers also spoke out on the nation’s fiscal state Tuesday. Blunt said he had introduced legislation “that would require agencies if there are furloughs to have the same kind of standards that they have on days when critical and crucial employees are supposed to show up.”
He added, “This is a problem that a leader needs to manage. We’d like to give (Obama) more capacity to do that. … He doesn’t appear to want that capacity.”
Congresswoman Lynn Jenkins, a Republican who represents Northeast Kansas, said she had been pleased to hear the president talk about closing tax loopholes, something she said Republicans have promoted the last two years.
“But if he uses closing the tax loopholes to pay for his addiction to spending then that kills fundamental, comprehensive tax reform,” she said.