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Biden optimistic after first deficit meeting

Joe Biden, Tim Geithner, Jack Lew
Vice President Joe Biden makes a statement to reporters during a meeting with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Office of Management and Budget Director Jack Lew in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on tax policy negotiations on Capitol Hill on Dec. 3, 2010.Charles Dharapak / AP
/ Source: news services

Vice President Joe Biden voiced optimism on Thursday as he chaired negotiations on the U.S.deficit, after Republicans signaled willingness to seek a down payment on cuts but no "grand slam" to slash spending.

"On behalf of all of us, let me say, we had a good, productive first meeting today," Biden said after the meeting. "We plan to meet again on Tuesday and look forward to further discussions on these important challenges."

A key battle between Democrats and Republicans in the 2012 election will be how to curb a bloated budget deficit.

The more than two-hour session on Thursday is the first session in what promises to be protracted talks aimed at producing legislation by an Aug. 2 deadline to raise a $14.3 trillion debt limit, or risk a damaging default that would shake the world economy.

"We're going to lay down — not hard negotiating positions — but let (us) make sure each of us understand where the other guy is coming from," Biden said as he began the meeting with top lawmakers from both parties.

President Barack Obama wants to raise taxes on wealthier Americans and shield cherished social spending like Social Security and Medicare for the elderly, messages central to his campaign to win re-election in 2012.

Republicans, playing on widespread voter anger over a budget deficit expected to reach $1.4 trillion this year, want to keep taxes low and slash spending, including on Medicare.

GOP signals new approach
Republicans signaled a new pragmatic approach on Thursday to the deficit talks. They edged away from a contentious plan to overhaul Medicare, a central plank of their deficit-cutting plan, saying the fate of the program may have to wait until after the 2012 elections.

But John Boehner, the Republican Speaker in the House of Representatives showed no mood for compromise on his party's central demand for "real spending cuts" to accompany a rise in the debt limit.

"It is time to start talking about trillions" of dollars in cuts, he said on Capitol Hill.

Although lawmakers have sounded skeptical about how much the Biden panel can achieve in the hyper-partisan atmosphere in Washington, Republican Senator John Kyl said after the meeting that the talks had gone "just great."

Biden said progress was made at the meeting, which lasted just over two hours. He did not offer any details but the panel is due to meet again next Tuesday.

The White House has pitched Biden's negotiations with four Democratic lawmakers and two Republicans as an opening bid from the administration to forge a compromise.

"We welcome any efforts, indications, that parties to these negotiations are searching for common ground," White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters traveling aboard Air Force One with Obama to New York for a ceremony at Ground Zero.

A bipartisan group of six senior senators — the so-called Gang of Six — is separately pursuing discussions to structure a deal, although they have yet to publish a plan.

The United States will bump up against the $14.3 trillion borrowing limit by May 16, although the Treasury can take steps to keep funding the government until August 2.

NBC News contributed to this story.