WASHINGTON – Punctuated with the sounds of ringing phones and clinking china, President Obama’s new legislative diplomacy has Republicans wondering what took so long.

Obama pressed ahead Thursday with his bipartisan political outreach, eliciting a cautious welcome in a capital that has been riven by gridlock and partisanship over how to lower deficits and stabilize the nation’s debt.

Obama had the Republican House Budget Committee chairman, Paul Ryan, and the committee’s top Democrat, Chris Van Hollen, to lunch at the White House, a day after he dined with a dozen Republican senators in what the White House said was an effort to find common ground with rank-and-file lawmakers.

Previous presidents have tried to develop relationships with members of Congress with varying degrees of success, although some of the biggest pieces of legislation, such as the 1964 Civil Rights Act and a Social Security deal in 1983, required cross-party efforts by Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Ronald Reagan.