President Obama began a
highly anticipated meeting with congressional leaders Friday morning
with a vow to seek a path to avoid the economy falling off the
so-called fiscal cliff.
"Our challenge is to make sure we are able to cooperate ... make some tough compromises, build some consensus," Obama told reporters before the group went into closed session.
Unless Republicans and Democrats agree on an alternative, the economy will be hit by a dual 600-billion-dollar whammy of budget cuts and tax increases starting January 1.
The biggest sticking point is Democratic insistence that wealthy pay more in taxes, while middle and lower income earners continue to benefit from Bush-era tax cuts. Republicans want the well-off to keep their tax cuts as well as the lesser earners.
Obama was meeting with the Senate's Democratic and Republican leaders, Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell, and their counterparts in the House of Representatives, Republican John Boehner and Democrat Nancy Pelosi.
Democrats control the Senate, while Republicans control the House.
Obama cast a teasing spotlight on Boehner, who has been a harsh critic, noting his birthday is Saturday - but adding he had decided not to "embarass him" with a cake because he didn't know how many candles to put on it.
Boehner, who was sitting next to the president, perked up, smiled and responded with a playful jab at Obama's arm.
"Folks want to see we are focussed on them, not on our politics here in Washington," Obama said.
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