Budget tops Obama, GOP talks

WASHINGTON — President Obama had lunch Wednesday with Republican leaders of the House of Representatives, and the federal budget was first on the menu.

Just days before he unveils his proposed federal budget for the next fiscal year, he and the top Republicans said they agreed in general on the need to cut federal spending and the budget deficit, as well as approve free trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama.

But they didn't talk specifics — the White House refused to share budget details with Congress before the president unveils it on Monday.

And recent votes in the House suggest that even if the Republican leaders can forge a spending agreement with Obama, they could have trouble getting it past their own party.

"We did have a fairly robust conversation about the need for all of us to work together to send a signal that we're serious about cutting spending. We had agreement on that," House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said outside the White House.

"I guess the particulars and the details will be where the disagreements may rise."

"We looked at places where we could work together: jobs and cutting government spending," added Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., the House majority whip. "It was a beginning and a start and we look forward."

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, who didn't sit in on the lunch, called it constructive.

"They agreed on cutting spending and reducing our deficits," he said. "They discussed areas such as trade where they can work together.... Obviously, reducing the deficit and growing the economy were things the president most discussed."

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said afterward that he's committed to holding House votes to approve a free trade agreement with South Korea that Obama's team negotiated late last year.

As Boehner, Cantor and McCarthy dined at the White House, they faced questions back at the Capitol about how much they can deliver.

The 87 Republican freshmen, along with many veteran conservative members, want GOP leaders to push harder for their conservative agenda.