President Barack Obama delivers a statement on the fiscal cliff negotiations with congressional leaders in the briefing room of the White House on Friday
President Barack Obama delivers a statement on the fiscal cliff negotiations with congressional leaders in the briefing room of the White House on Friday in Washington. The negotiations are a last ditch effort to avoid across-the-board first of the year tax increases and deep spending cuts. (Evan Vucci/AP Photo)

Related story: Last ditch effort to avoid fiscal cliff under way


WASHINGTON (AP)-- President Barack Obama says "the hour for immediate action is here" on a deal to avert the fiscal cliff.

The president says he remains "optimistic" that an agreement can be reached in Congress before a looming year-end deadline to avoid tax increases and spending cuts.

If Congress can't reach a deal, the president says Congress should allow a vote on a basic package that would preserve tax cuts for middle-class Americans while extending unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless and working toward a foundation for a broader deal.

The president says an hourlong meeting Friday with congressional leaders was "good and constructive."

Senate leaders say they hope to reach a compromise that could be presented to lawmakers by Sunday, little more than 24 hours before the deadline.



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