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What's Behind Obama's 'Charm Offensive' with GOP?

Now, with the process known as sequestration slashing $85 billion from the budget this fiscal year, $1 trillion over the next nine years, Carney said “there is an opportunity here to do what some members of Congress and leaders have said they would like to do, and we agree, and that is return to some sense of normalcy here, regular order, engage in a budget process and negotiation and debate that hopefully produces a bipartisan compromise.”

Carney acknowledged the two sides “don’t have to agree on everything, we don’t have to resolve all of our differences in order to move forward on finding solutions to the challenges that we face, and recognizing that there is a bipartisan consensus in the country on so many of these issues.” The president is encouraged, he said, “by some of the progress that we’ve seen -- on gun violence, on immigration reform -- on Capitol Hill, and he hopes to build on that moving forward.”

Thus far the two sides appear to be operating under a white flag. Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, the House Republican floor leader, said this week that “we remain committed to trying to focus on resolving problems -- we remain committed to trying to help those who are unemployed.” But Carney acknowledged that the White House is “not naïve about the challenges that we still face.”

“They exist and there are differences,” he said.

And those are coming up quickly. In lieu of a budget, the House this week passed a continuing resolution to keep the government funded to Sept. 30 – the end of the federal fiscal year. It includes the dictates of sequestration and won’t pass the Senate intact, setting the stage for bruising negotiations. Failure to pass a CR could force the federal government to shut down on March 27.

Van Hollen said the package passed by the House comes “at the expense of job creation and economic growth.”

“The GOP is dead set on balancing the budget on the backs of working families, seniors, and kids’ education – everything is on the chopping block except tax breaks for special interests and the very wealthy,” he said. “The American people were given a clear choice during the last election cycle and they rejected the plan advocated by House Republicans. But instead of listening, they seem to be doubling down on a failed approach.”

Obama, meanwhile, is hoping the two sides can get together on legislation replacing sequestration, which he fears will boost unemployment and, perhaps, lead to another recession. His concerns are not matched by Republicans who are unwilling to consider alternative legislation if it increases taxes in any way.

“As I’ve made clear many times, sequestration will remain in effect until cuts and reforms are put in place that put us on a path to balance the budget over the next 10 years,” Boehner said. “There are smarter ways to cut spending, and that’s why the House has acted twice over the last year to replace the sequester.”

Regardless, Carney said the White House will “continue to engage with Republicans as well as Democrats.”

“He (Obama) will continue to speak clearly about what his priorities are,” Carney said. “He will make clear that, for example, we’re disappointed that the choice was made by Republicans to allow the so-called sequester to take effect, with all of the negative consequences that result. But he also believes we can move forward and try to address these other challenges, and that’s part of what’s happening.”