Over a meal of lentil vegetable soup and broiled sea bass, President Obama and top House budget leaders shared a "constructive" meeting to clean up the aftermath of failed negotiations to avert sequestration, according to a White House official.
After throwing verbal barbs against Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan's budget plan while on the campaign trail last year, Obama shifted his footing Thursday by hosting the former vice presidential candidate for lunch to help ease tensions between the two political parties. The bipartisan meal was the second for the president in less than 24 hours as he embarks on a political campaign to seek a balanced budget and hopeful deal to end the unpopular sequester cuts.
“I thank President Obama for hosting a frank discussion about Washington’s budget challenges. Everyone needs to be a part of this conversation," Ryan said in a statement following the event. Ryan's somewhat effusive response was comparably positive to reactions coming out of the White House as both parties voiced optimism in coming negotiations.
Ryan's Democratic counterpart on the committee, Rep. Chris Van Hollen, spoke the most openly of the meeting in an interview with NBC's Luke Russert, "I thought it was a really good exchange of views. A very informal setting, coats off, sleeves rolled up, really discussing ways that we might begin to bridge some of the differences that we faces especially in budget issues."
He insists the president is ready to work hard for a big deal. "There's no doubt that the president would like to see a grand bargain, some kind of agreement that will finally put behind us these manufactured crises we're having on the budget," he said, but noted that won't mean he'll relent on his push for a balanced deal that includes tax revenues in addition to spending cuts. "The president has been very clear since the beginning he's prepared to do that for the good of the country, but, you know, he wants to make sure Republicans meet him half way."
Van Hollen also praised the president for reaching beyond the Republican leadership as he reaches across the aisle for a deal, calling it part of an "ongoing effort" by Obama "to broaden that conversation and I think that's been welcome by Republicans across the board and it's something that we need to move forward on."
On Wednesday night, Obama sat down with 12 senators, including former presidential campaign adversary John McCain, in a shift of outreach tactics that broadened the negotiations beyond just the Republican leadership to include rank-and-file members of the party. Many Republican senators spoke optimistically about the meeting, including Mike Johanns who called it "a good first step." Tom Coburn said, “It was a good meal, it was a good experience."
According to White House spokesman Jay Carney, the president found the dinner "very constructive and very pleasant" and said that "there seemed to be sincere interest in avoiding constant crisis, sincere interest expressed by the participants in the dinner."
House Speaker John Boehner, who did not made the invite list for any of these recent meals, called the president's recent outreach "interesting" saying he's "really gone a 180" in the last week. "I think it's a sign, a hopeful sign, and I'm hopeful that something will come out of it," Boehner said Thursday morning.