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Bipartisan Hill Aides Begin Search For Common Ground On Deficit

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WASHINGTON -- Vice President Joseph Biden’s Thursday morning budget meeting with top lawmakers was little more than a chance for attendees to give introductory remarks and lay out general positions on fiscal matters. But the real work began at 3 p.m., when a bipartisan group of staffers huddled to begin the search for areas of agreement on deficit reduction.

White House aides attended the staff meeting, as did aides to each of the six lawmakers who attended Biden’s meeting: House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), House Budget ranking member Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), House Assistant Minority Leader James Clyburn (D-S.C.), Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), Senate Appropriations Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) and Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.).

A senior Democratic aide suggested the staff-level meeting would be where real negotiations begin taking place. There was "no real news" out of Biden's hour-and-a-half meeting, said the aide, but it was important to get all the parties in one room. "You've got to start somewhere."

Another Democratic aide said involved lawmakers have "a general understanding" that they need to find areas of agreement. "The other things are bright lines," said this aide. "We may not get those resolved for a long time, whether it is revenue or their plan on Medicare."

The vice president opened the meeting at Blair House, the guesthouse across the street from the White House often a venue for high-profile meetings, by citing “two looming concerns” that everyone present agrees must be addressed: the debt limit and “the much larger looming issue of the long-term debt,” according to pool reports. The purpose of Thursday’s meeting, he said, was to "make sure each of us understands where the other guy is coming from."

President Barack Obama announced in April that he was tapping Biden to lead the deficit talks during a major speech on fiscal policy. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, Office of Management and Budget director Jacob Lew, and National Economic Council director Gene Sperling are also taking part in discussions.

Biden had little to say after his meeting, the first of several to be held at Blair House. “On behalf of all of us, let me say we had a good, productive first meeting today,” he said in a statement. “We plan to meet again on Tuesday and look forward to further discussions on these important challenges.”

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