White House upbeat after 'good exchange' with Ryan on deficit

Both President Obama and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said they were encouraged by budget discussions at their lunch meeting Thursday at the White House.

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The pair met with ranking Budget Committee member Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) over lentil soup, broiled sea bass and roasted vegetables. The trio discussed the potential of striking a comprehensive deficit deal in the latest effort by the White House to reach out to rank-and-file lawmakers in the aftermath of the failed sequester negotiations.

In a statement issued by his office Thursday, Ryan characterized the meal as "a frank discussion about Washington’s budget challenges."

“Everyone needs to be a part of this conversation," Ryan said. "We need an open debate about how best to balance the budget and expand opportunity. I look forward to having that debate next week with specific budget proposals from House Republicans and Senate Democrats.”

A White House official said Obama, Ryan and Van Hollen addressed "a host of issues, including tackling our deficit challenges and [the president's] proposal to replace the sequester and reduce the deficit in a balanced way." And a congressional aide described the meeting as "a good exchange of views" and "part of an ongoing effort to bridge our differences."

"The president expressed his desire to continue a dialogue with them in the weeks ahead, and looks forward to continuing discussions with them and other members of the committee on these issues of importance to our economy and the middle class," the White House aide said.

Ryan, the Republican vice presidential nominee last year, will be central to any effort to strike a bipartisan deal.

Earlier in the day, White House press secretary Jay Carney said he had a "pleasant" conversation with Ryan before the lunch and praised him as a "thought leader in the Republican Party."

The meeting came the day after Obama dined with a dozen Republican senators at The Jefferson Hotel, part of a courtship effort launched by the White House in recent days. President Obama has phoned a number of Republican legislators, and next week will address the Democratic and Republican House and Senate conferences.

"We're trying to help foster an environment where these conversations are productive and they help the cause of finding common ground for bipartisan solutions to the challenges we face," Carney said.