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At GOP outreach dinner, Obama picks up the tab

Updated 1:40 a.m. EST March 7, 2013

As part of his effort to improve relations between the White House and Capitol Hill, President Obama dined with a small group of Republican senators this evening and, according to the White House, he paid for the dinner out of his own pocket.

Sens. Tom Coburn, R-Okla.; Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H.; Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga.; John Hoeven, R-N.D.; John McCain, R-Ariz.; Bob Corker, R-Tenn.; Mike Johanns, R-Neb.; Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.; Richard Burr, R-N.C.; Dan Coats, R-Ind., Ron Johnson, R-Wis.; and Pat Toomey, R-Pa.; are among the senators who joined the president for dinner tonight. The group dined at the Jefferson Hotel a few blocks from the White House.

"The president greatly enjoyed the dinner and had a good exchange of ideas with the senators," a senior administration official said.

Johnson concurred, saying, "It was an excellent dinner. It was a genuine, sincere open discussion of the fiscal problems facing the nation."

Johanns said he felt the president was trying to "start a discussion and kind of break the ice" on how to move forward in dealing with the repeated budget battles that keep cropping up.

"Most of the meeting was spent on budget and the way forward and his goal is ours," he said. "We want to stop careening from crisis to crisis and solving every problem by meeting the crisis deadline."

"I think he's very sincere, I think he wants to try to figure something out," Johanns added.

Hoeven described the tone of the dinner as "very positive, encouraging, candid, focused on 'how do we come together?'

"Now we didn't solve that tonight, but there was a real commitment, I think by everybody there to figure out how we do come together and that's why we need these kind of discussions and that's why we need more of them."

In continuing his outreach, Mr. Obama will join Senate Republicans at a lunch meeting next Thursday. The president is also planning separate meetings with House Republicans and House Democrats next week.

"Senate Republicans welcome the President to the Capitol," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in a statement. "And I appreciate he took my recommendation to hear from all of my members."

Mr. Obama requested the lunch meeting with Senate Republicans through his chief of staff on Tuesday. He's also requested an opportunity to visit the House GOP and Democratic caucuses on Capitol Hill to talk about his legislative priorities.

With Washington mired down in budget talks, Mr. Obama has been reaching out not just to congressional leaders, but also to rank-and-file Democrats and Republicans in an effort to find what he calls a "caucus of common sense." He recently reached out, for example, to a small group of Republican senators including Sens. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, Susan Collins, R-Maine, Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Bob Corker, R-Tenn.

Earlier today, House Republicans passed a bill to fund the government through September. If Congress fails to pass a bill to fund the government before March 27, federal government operations have partially shut down. Both Democrats and Republicans have said they want to avoid a shutdown, though some Democrats and the White House say they are deeply concerned about the House Republican bill, which keeps in place most of the sequester cuts that recently went into effect.

CBS News' Jillian Hughes contributed to this report.

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