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GOP senators tell Obama to tone it down

WASHINGTON -- Senate Republicans politely but firmly told President Barack Obama Thursday to tone down his political attacks and prod Democratic allies to support controversial changes in Medicare if he wants a compromise in budget and deficit negotiations.

Participants at a 90-minute closed-door meeting said Obama acknowledged the point without yielding ground.

"We'll see where we go from here, but it was a great meeting," said GOP leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who normally is one of the president's sharpest critics in Congress.

The discussion came as Obama wrapped up a round of meetings with rank-and-file lawmakers in both houses of Congress, hoping to build support for a second-term agenda of deficit reduction, immigration overhaul and gun control.

Obama met with Senate Republicans and House Democrats as legislation to lock in $85 billion in spending cuts and avert a government shutdown later this month made plodding progress and the two parties advanced rival longer-term budgets.

No breakthroughs had been anticipated and none were reported, although Obama told reporters before returning to the White House, "We're making progress."

In the Senate, several Republicans told the president his rhetoric was not conducive to compromise. Sen. John Thune of South Dakota referred to a recent interview in which Obama said some Republicans want to eviscerate Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. "Nobody here believes those programs ought to be gutted," Thune told Obama, the senator later recalled.

Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee said Obama must also "go against the grain in his own party," much as Lyndon Johnson did in winning civil rights legislation from Congress in the 1960s or Richard Nixon did in forging an opening with China in the 1970s.

Obama has repeatedly told Republicans he supports curtailing the growth of cost-of-living benefits for Social Security and other benefit programs as part of a compromise, as well as raising costs for wealthier Medicare beneficiaries. He has also told them they must agree to raise revenue -- although not tax rates -- as part of any deal.

Some Republicans have said they could accept higher revenue as part of tax reform that stimulates economic growth.

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