Toomey to join Republicans dining with Obama

UPDATED with comments from Toomey below

WASHINGTON -- Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey is among several Republicans scheduled to dine with President Obama in Washington tonight.

Toomey has been invited as part of an unusual outreach from Obama to rank-and-file Republicans. Obama has talked publicly about rallying a "caucus of common sense" as he tries to build support for his priorities, including a deficit reduction plan that includes a mix of increased tax revenue and spending cuts more targeted than under the sequester.

Toomey's planned attendance was first reported by the Associated Press and confirmed by the Inquirer. South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham organized the guest list, according to a White House official.

UPDATE: Toomey and Obama spoke by phone Wednesday afternoon.

"I was pleased to accept President Obama’s invitation to dinner tonight. I am happy to work with the president if he is willing to work with us," Toomey said in comments released by his office. "He called me a short time ago to preview tonight’s discussion. There are two big ideas I stressed to the president this afternoon that I will repeat at dinner."

First, Toomey said, "in order to have the economic growth and job creation that we need, we must be on a sustainable fiscal path with long-term structural reforms of the mandatory health care programs."

"The second huge opportunity that I will stress with president Obama is that we must have tax reform in order to have strong economic growth and, as a result, more jobs. That means simplifying the tax code, wiping out preferences and lowering marginal rates for all Americans and employers."

 Toomey has often been a fierce Obama critic, particularly on taxes and spending, but the former head of the conservative Club for Growth has also made an effort since the election to also show a more conciliatory side, sponsoring many bills with Democrats and largely praising Obama's State of the Union speech last month.

As the head of a Senate conservative caucus and member of the budget and finance committees, Toomey's voice is critical on fiscal issues.

In an interesting quirk of timing, after dining with Obama tonight he is scheduled to speak at the conservative Heritage Foundation at mid-day Thursday, in part to "talk about the President’s fear campaign" according to the group's Web site.

Other senators scheduled to attend tonight'sdinner include: Sens. John McCain, Kelly Ayotte, Roy Blunt, Rob Portman, Bob Corker and Ron Johnson, according to AP.

The dinner is scheduled for 6:30 at the Jefferson Hotel, weather permitting, according to the White House.