(NBC News) -- In Washington, where the talk is too often stuck on sequestration, fiscal cliffs and debt ceilings, all the talk Thursday was about lunch and dinner.
President Obama is hosting Republicans for private talks on spending.
Mitt Romney's running mate, House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, leads the Republican fight against the Obama plan on taxes and spending, but the president invited Ryan to the White House to break bread and maybe break the deadlock over the budget.
Also invited was House Democrat Chris Van Hollen.
"What the President is trying to do now is expand that conversation beyond just the top leaders," Van Hollen said.
Top Republican leader, Speaker John Boehner, whose own talks with Mr. Obama have largely failed, said he's not threatened, but is surprised by the president's reaching out to Republicans.
"We've gone 180. After being in office now for four years he's actually going to sit down and talk to members," Boehner said.
At last night's dinner Mr. Obama traded views on taxes and spending with Senate Republicans, a dozen who've said they'd work with Democrats.
Many said they were pleased with the discussion.
"I am more optimistic, just from a personal standpoint," said Nebraska Senator Mike Johanns.
"The President listened, and so we took a lot of the politicizing out of this whole process," said Indiana's Dan Coats.
Boehner called it a hopeful sign, but didn't sound hopeful himself.
"If the President continues to insist on tax hikes, I don't think we're going to get very far," the Speaker predicted.
Some see the next few months as a window of opportunity for a grand bargain budget deal to finally end the fighting over sequestration, debt, deficit, taxes, and spending.