A new bipartisan negotiating committee tasked with hammering out a federal budget before the current deal expires in January pledged during its first public meeting Wednesday to find common ground.
But after a nasty partisan budget fight that led to a16-day partial government shutdown, negotiators admit the public isn't holding its breath for a deal.
"The bar is pretty low right now; let's see if we can clear it," House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said during his opening statement. "We'll restore confidence in our economy if we do that."
Senate Budget Chairman Patty Murray, D-Wash., added the public is "pretty skeptical" the panel can reach a deal "after seeing the partisanship and dysfunction of the last few weeks."
Still, Murray said the bipartisan budget conference "offers us the opportunity to rebuild some trust, find a path to compromise and work together to create jobs and boost our fragile economy."
Ryan, who co-chairs the ad hoc committee with Murray, added that its 29 members don't have to abandon their principles to reach a compromise.
"Instead, what we ought to do is find where our principles overlap to find common ground," he said.
"We won't solve all of our differences here. We won't solve all of our problems, but we can make a good start and we should because we owe it to the country."
The meeting, which was little more than an opportunity for committee members to give general opening statements, included no specific proposals.
The panel's next hearing is scheduled for Nov. 13 after the House returns from a week-and-a-half-long break. But negotiators will remain in contact in the meantime, and most significant work is expected to be conducted out of the public eye.
The committee was created out of the Oct. 17 compromise that raised the nation's debt ceiling and ended the government shutdown. The deal funds the government through Jan. 15. But without a new budget plan, federal agencies again would close.
The conference committee includes 22 senators — 10 Republicans, 10 Democrats and two independents who caucus with Democrats — and four Republicans and three Democrats from the House.
A main sticking point is what budget baseline should be used. Many House Republicans want federal spending capped at an annual rate of $986 billion, a figure that includes the sequestration funding cuts that were part of a 2011 bipartisan deal. Democrats have pushed to restore that funding, which would increase overall spending to $1.057 trillion.
Republicans have suggested they're willing to restore the sequester cuts if Democrats agree to reforming Social Security, Medicare and other entitlement programs.
But for one day at least, committee members refrained from the acerbic partisan rhetoric that paralyzed past budget negotiations.
"At this point, there's not much to be gained by focusing on who's to blame for this fiscal mess," said Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga. "What we should be concerned with is how we're going to clean it up."
Added Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore.: "This budget conference is an opportunity to transition from crisis to consensus."