By Kerry Lester
The jovial nature of previous banter between two former General Assembly colleagues was gone Wednesday as House GOP Chief Deputy Whip Peter Roskam told President Barack Obama that Congress fears he's leading the country to the same financial bankruptcy as the state they both hail from.
Roskam, of Wheaton, told the Daily Herald he tried to "teasingly translate" the "reluctance" heard in House Republicans' voices in dealings with the White House during the closed-door meeting, where even a limited number of staff members were allowed to attend.
"When they hear the president talking about how he approaches the economy, they fear he's leading in the same direction Illinois is now," Roskam said he told the president during the meeting in the Capitol basement with 232 Republican members. "Pursuing revenues, not dealing with the underlying spending problems. Higher than average unemployment. What they hear is avoidance behavior."
The meeting is part of the president's aggressive outreach effort to Congress over the deficit, which has been nicknamed his "charm offensive."
In addition to dining with 12 Republican senators last week, Obama also placed a call Monday to Republican Sen. Mark Kirk, of Highland Park. Kirk's office reported the two talked about gun control legislation, the budget and Iran sanctions. Obama will meet with Senate Republicans in full over lunch tomorrow.
Obama's calls for more revenue have been a major sticking point in reaching a deal with congressional Republicans on a plan to cut the deficit.
Obama stresses protecting entitlement programs, cutting spending and hiking taxes.
Republicans don't want to budge on their pledge not to raise taxes, especially after conceding in fiscal cliff negotiations to tax hikes for families who make over $450,000.
"My appeal to him was, this can be an incredible legacy for him," Roskam said. "He could be the person that puts the fiscal health of the country in order. Balance the budget in 10 years and pay off our debt."
The last time Obama met with the House GOP was at their annual retreat in 2010. There too, a Roskam-Obama exchange also had a leading role.
Obama, who worked with Roskam on death penalty legislation in the Illinois Senate, stopped to make a point upon spotting his old colleague. "Oh, Peter and I are old friends," the president told the crowd with a flash of a grin. "Peter and I have had many debates."
"Well, this won't be one," Roskam shot back.
Roskam Wednesday called the meeting a "good exchange" that the House GOP ultimately benefitted from, but noted that icy relations between the White House and Congress hadn't helped negotiations over the last three years.
"I think we would be on a different footing today if the president had followed through on that exchange of three years ago and had done more outreach efforts," Roskam said. "We'd be further down the road toward a solution."