WASHINGTON -- A two-and-a-half hour dinner with President Obama Wednesday night was perhaps a first step toward finding common ground on some of the country's pressing fiscal issues, Republican Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey said after he and several other Republicans met with the president.
"It was a candid and constructive conversation on both sides," said Toomey, one of a handful of Republican senators invited to dine with the president at the high-end Jefferson Hotel, a few blocks north of the White House. "Most of the discussion was about fiscal issues, although it did extend beyond fiscal and budgetary issues."
The roughly two-and-a-half hour dinner was off the record, but Toomey said it was a "very cordial and very candid meeting" -- and his first chance to dine with the president.
"I think there are areas where we could reach common ground, I think that is possible, but it’s not going to happen over one dinner," Toomey said in a telephone interview. "If this were easy we would have done it years ago when it comes to solving our fiscal problems, reforming our entitlement programs, fixing our tax code."
Toomey said each of those issues present possible areas for compromise, but he declined to discuss specifics, noting that the details of the dinner were meant to be private.
"This was a beginning of a process," he said. "There's a lot of work left to do."
Toomey, a fiscal conservative, has been a frequent critic of Obama on taxes, spending and the federal budget. He leads the Senate's conservative caucus and is speaking Thursday at the conservative Heritage Foundation.
But tonight, in a brief interview, he sounded like there was perhaps a chance to work on the kind of big budget deal that has so far eluded Obama and Congressional Republicans. It was clear, though, that there was much to do before concrete steps can be taken.
“The President greatly enjoyed the dinner and had a good exchange of ideas with the senators,” a senior White House official said, per the White House pool report.
Toomey was one of 12 GOP Senators at the dinner.
The White House has said Obama picked up the bill, though one of the senators told reporters outside that several people paid. Sadly, I did not ask Toomey about this.