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US seeks to avoid a 'fiscal cliff'








Washington, Dec 29 (IANS) After weeks of wrangling over how to avoid what has been described as the fiscal cliff that may push America into another recession, President Barack Obama has turned to Senate leaders to work out a last-minute deal.

The task of working out a deal on avoiding the fiscal cliff, a combination of automatic tax increases and deep spending cuts due to take effect at the start of the new year, was left to the Senate leaders after a political summit at the White House Friday.

After the high-stakes meeting with congressional leaders and top administration officials, Obama said he was "modestly optimistic" that the Senate leaders would be able to forge an agreement, even as he warned "nobody's going to get 100 percent of what they want."

Absent such a deal, Obama said his latest proposal should be put to a vote. He predicted it would pass the House and Senate with bipartisan support.

Obama's plan calls for holding down tax rates on middle-class Americans -- which he described as family income up to $250,000 -- while letting rates increase for top income brackets.

It also would extend unemployment benefits and "lay the groundwork" for economic growth and deficit reduction.

Democrat Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, told reporters Friday that the next 24 hours would be "very important" toward efforts to reach a deal.

Reid's Republican counterpart, Senator Mitch McConnell, expressed hope that he and Reid could agree on a plan to present to their respective caucuses "as early as Sunday."

The White House meeting came with the Senate back in town for a rare end-of-year appearance before a new Congress convenes Jan 3. Speaker John Boehner plans to bring the House back on Sunday.

The principal dispute continues to be over taxes, specifically Democrats' demand to extend most of the tax cuts passed under former President George Bush while allowing higher rates of the 1990s to return on top income brackets.

Republicans have opposed any kind of increase in tax rates, and Boehner's offer of a compromise-a $1 million threshold for the higher rates to kick in-failed to find any takers in his own party.

(Arun Kumar can be contacted at arun.kumar@ians.in)

 
Arun Kumar
 
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