Obama Lunches With Budget Hawk Ryan, Deal Still Far Off

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -
House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) arrives at the West Wing of the White House in Washington, Thursday. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) arrives at the West Wing of the White House in Washington, Thursday. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

President Barack Obama expanded his fledgling search for Republican allies on a possible deficit-reduction deal when he hosted lunch on Thursday for Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, one of the House of Representatives’ leading fiscal conservatives.

Coming the day after he took Republican Senators to dinner to discuss the budget, Obama’s new outreach brought optimism that two years of fiscal battles could ease up. But the White House and Republican lawmakers signaled that the road to a grand bargain will still be difficult.

Criticized for not forging links with the opposition, Obama has been unable to reach a long-term deal in often acrimonious talks with House Speaker John Boehner to trim at least $4 trillion in deficits over 10 years.

Obama’s new tack seems to be in response to the failure of both sides to halt $85 billion in automatic spending cuts that kicked in last week. A Reuters/Ipsos poll on Tuesday showed Obama’s approval rating falling to 43 percent, partly due to the partisan fight over taxes and spending.

Ohio Republican Boehner told reporters this week’s thaw was “a hopeful sign. I think something will come of it.”

On Thursday, Obama lunched at the White House on lentil vegetable soup and broiled sea bass with Ryan, who spent much of last year bashing the Democratic president’s fiscal policies when Ryan was the Republican vice presidential candidate. They were joined by Representative Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, the top Democrat on Ryan’s House Budget Committee.

While lawmakers and the White House have described the various meetings and conversations as productive, nobody was yet willing to predict success.