The stopgap measure would provide $982 billion, enough to keep federal agencies humming past March 27, when current funding will expire. It also would lock in the across-the-board spending cuts known as the sequester for the rest of the fiscal year.
The bill will now head to the Senate, where Democrats are likely to seek amendments that would help blunt the effects of domestic spending cuts that began last week. But there is bipartisan optimism that a final version of the measure will clear Congress by the end of the month.
With a government shutdown now unlikely, Obama is focusing on a new round of talks that the White House hopes could break the fiscal impasse. After more than two years of negotiations with GOP leaders that did not achieve a “grand bargain,” the president is courting rank-and-file Republicans who may be interested in a deal that pairs cuts in entitlement programs with a tax overhaul that would include new revenue.
Obama invited 12 GOP senators to dinner Wednesday at the Jefferson Hotel in downtown Washington, where they dined for two hours. Obama picked up the tab personally, and two of his guests, Sens. John McCain (Ariz.) and Tom Coburn (Okla.), emerged flashing a thumbs-up.
“I think what he is really trying to do is just start a discussion and break the ice, and that was appreciated,” Mike Johanns (Neb.) told reporters as he left the dinner. “His goal is ours — we want to stop careening from crisis to crisis and solving every problem by meeting a crisis deadline.”
Next week, Obama will make a rare visit to Capitol Hill to meet separately with the Democratic and Republican caucuses in the House and the Senate.
There appears to be a growing desire among leaders at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue to reach an accord that has eluded them. At the dinner, Obama and the Republicans spoke about the opportunity to work together through the budget and debt ceiling debates over the next four to five months, according to attendees.
“That was really the key -- how do we bring people together in a bipartisan way to get it done?” Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) said. “And I think this kind of dialogue is what we need more of to get there.”
Obama’s new charm offensive marks a departure from his more combative recent negotiating style. Since winning reelection in November, he has pursued an outside strategy of rallying the public to ratchet up pressure on lawmakers to back his proposals.
Now, however, with the sequester cuts taking hold, White House aides said Obama sees an opportunity for productive discussions with Republicans about how to replace the sequester with a more thoughtful and less painful deficit-reduction plan.