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Obama, Congress struggle toward fiscal cliff deal

On Friday President Barack Obama met with congressional leaders once again to try negotiating a budget deal. Obama said he walked away from the meeting 'optimistic.'

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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

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The end game at hand, the White House and Senate leaders took a final stab at compromise Friday night to prevent middle-class tax increases from taking effect at the turn of the new year and possibly prevent sweeping spending cuts as well.

"I'm optimistic we may still be able to reach an agreement that can pass both houses in time," President Barack Obama said at the White House after meeting for more than an hour with congressional leaders.

Surprisingly, after weeks of postelection gridlock, Senate leaders sounded even more bullish.

The Republican leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, said he was "hopeful and optimistic" of a deal, adding he hoped a compromise could be presented to rank-and-file lawmakers as early as Sunday, a little more than 24 hours before the year-end deadline.

Said Majority Leader Harry Reid: "I'm going to do everything I can" to prevent the tax increases and spending cuts that threaten to send the economy into recession. He cautioned, "Whatever we come up with is going to be imperfect."

Officials said there was a general understanding that any agreement would block scheduled income tax increases for middle class earners while letting rates rise at upper income levels.

Democrats said Obama was sticking to his campaign call for increases above $250,000 in annual income, even though in recent negotiations he said he could accept $400,000.

The two sides also confronted a divide over estate taxes.

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