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Budget Negotiators Appear Ready to Scale Back

A grand bargain on deficit reduction seemed unlikely as staffers began meeting Thursday afternoon on behalf of the bipartisan group of lawmakers charged with seeking a compromise.

Vice President Joseph Biden is leading the negotiations with lawmakers from both chambers, and their first meeting was Thursday morning.

Republicans have started sending signals that they would be open to a compromise that takes the most controversial items off the table. Democrats have made clear that House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) efforts to repeal the health care overhaul law and privatize Medicare are non-starters, and Republicans pushed back Thursday against any proposal to raise taxes, including as part of an automatic debt reduction trigger.

That leaves the prospect of a smaller but still significant package of budget cuts paired with some budget process reforms as the most likely outcome to get a deal to raise the debt limit. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner told lawmakers Monday that the nation is likely to hit the debt ceiling by Aug. 2 unless Congress acts to raise it.

Aides with knowledge of the talks said that the meeting Thursday morning didn’t break much new ground. Republicans had sought an in-depth offer from the White House detailing President Barack Obama’s outline for deficit reduction, which he presented in a speech last month. But they didn’t get one, and certainly not one that could be scored by the Congressional Budget Office, aides said.