Retired Republican Senator Judd Gregg, a former chairman of the chamber’s Budget Committee, said placing the entitlement plan in the budget may build momentum for negotiations. Though the administration may have offered the ideas before, they must be published in concrete terms in the budget plan and government analysts provide estimates of their financial impact.
“It’s significant because it sets out a marker, and it’s a constructive marker,” Gregg said.
Obama has begun a series of private meetings with members of Congress, particularly Republican senators, in recent weeks. He is scheduled to join a dozen Republican senators for dinner on the evening the budget is released. He took part in a similar private gathering last month.
“The ground is very fertile in terms of getting an agreement, said Gregg, now a co-chairman of the Campaign to Fix the Debt. ‘‘All that it needs is for the president to show serious engagement, which he appears to be doing, with the budget and with meetings.’’
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, one of the lawmakers Obama has been speaking with, said yesterday on NBC’s ‘‘Meet the Press’’ television program that by including entitlement cuts in his budget proposal Obama is ‘‘beginning to set the stage for the grand bargain.’’
‘‘This is somewhat encouraging,’’ Graham said. ‘‘His overall budget’s not going to make it, but he has sort of made a step forward in the entitlement-reform process that would allow a guy like me to begin to talk about flattening the tax code and generating more revenue.’’
Jon Kyl, the Senate’s second-ranking Republican until he retired in January, dismissed the budget proposal as ‘‘old wine in a new bottle.’’
Still, Kyl, now a senior adviser for the Washington law firm Covington & Burling, said some Republican senators are concerned about the level of defense cuts in the automatic spending reductions under the sequestration and may be looking for a way to restart negotiations on the budget.
‘‘There’s no harm in talking,’’ Kyl said, ‘‘and I suspect some people will view this as an opening gambit and see if some middle ground can be reached.’’