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Politics

Obama warns Congress not to leap off 'fiscal cliff'

US President Barack Obama has said in his weekly address that he's still hopeful of a 2013 budget deal. With just two days to go, however, he warned Congress not to push the delays over the cliff's edge.

Senate leaders Harry Reid of the Democrats and Republican Mitch McConnell met for further talks on a 2013 budget deal on Saturday, with another warning from President Barack Obama ringing in their ears.

As politicians sought a last-minute deal on how to tax the wealthiest in the country, with almost everybody else's tax returns hanging in the balance as a by-product, Obama used his weekly radio and Internet address to urge Congress to reach a deal.

"We're now at the point where, in just a couple of days, the law says that every American's tax rates are going up. Every American's paycheck will get a lot smaller," Obama said, calling this "wrong" for the country's economy.

"And Congress can prevent it from happening, if they act now. Leaders in Congress are working on a way to prevent this tax hike on the middle class, and I believe we may be able to reach an agreement that can pass both houses in time."

'That's the way this is supposed to work'

Failing a bipartisan deal, Obama said he would urge a vote on a "basic package" of measures designed to avoid the worst of what's commonly called the "fiscal cliff" in media reports. The fiscal cliff is a reference to wide-ranging tax increases and simultaneous spending cuts designed to automatically come into force on January 1, unless a different deal is reached.

Obama's Democrats and the opposition Republicans agree that most US taxpayers should dodge the higher rates; they are arguing only over what to do with the wealthiest in the country.

The president said he thought his basic package could pass a vote with a simple majority in both Houses, provided no stalling tactics were employed - such as a "filibuster" in the Senate - to prevent the vote.

"If [politicians] still wanna vote 'no,' and let tax hikes hit the middle class, that's their prerogative. But they should let everybody vote. That's the way this is supposed to work," Obama said, concluding his address by saying "we cannot let Washington politics get in the way of America's progress."

Some form of resolution is required by Monday, and US leaders were seeking a draft deal of some description by Sunday, so that votes can subsequently be arranged in both houses of Congress.

msh/jr (AFP, dpa, Reuters)