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Obama dials down budget blame in new tack on deficit fight

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks before he signs the Violence Against Women Act while at the Department of Interior in Washington, March 7
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks before he signs the Violence Against Women Act while at the Department of Interior in Washington, March 7

By Roberta Rampton

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama said he is looking for compromise in the coming months to end a two-year fight with Congress over how to reduce the deficit, promising Americans in his weekly radio address that he will try to find common ground with lawmakers.

Turning away from the sharp rhetoric he has used in recent weeks to blame Republicans for $85 billion in government spending cuts that took effect March 1, Obama this week highlighted how he is working with lawmakers in Congress.

"The fact is, America is a nation of different beliefs and different points of view. That's what makes us strong, and frankly, makes our democratic debates messy and often frustrating," Obama said.

"But ultimately what makes us special is when we summon the ability to see past those differences."

The warm and fuzzy message contrasted sharply with Obama's radio addresses from the past two weeks, when he blasted Republicans for protecting the rich and hurting the middle class and accused them of "partisan recklessness."

"We just need Republicans in Congress to catch up with their own party and the rest of the country," he said last week.

But this week, Obama turned on a charm offensive, having lunch with Paul Ryan, the Republican chairman of the House Budget Committee and the party's 2012 vice presidential nominee, and dinner with a dozen Republican senators.

Obama described the meeting with senators as "an open and honest conversation" that he plans to continue next week, when he plans to visit Capitol Hill four times.

Obama said he will talk about immigration reform and new gun control proposals in the meetings, as well as the deficit.

His visits come during a week when both chambers are slated to unveil their budget plans for 2014, and the Senate also considers ways to adjust spending for the rest of 2013 to try to ease the impact of the March 1 "sequester" cuts.

Obama said Friday's news that the jobless rate fell to 7.7 percent last month - lower than when he first took office in 2009 - showed "momentum" in the economy that risks being stalled by Washington's political gridlock.

"In the months ahead, there will be more contentious debate and honest disagreement between principled people who want what's best for this country," Obama said, adding he believed compromise is possible.

"And I know there are leaders on the other side who share that belief."

(Reporting by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Stacey Joyce)

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