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Politics

US congressional leaders meet president over fiscal cliff

President Barack Obama and congressional leaders are meeting for the first time since November to try to forge a deal to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff. Congressional Republicans and Democrats remain at loggerheads.

With only days left to reach a political solution with Congress, President Barack Obama and congressional leaders are meeting on Friday for the first time since November. 

The meeting at the White House is with Republican foes House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Democratic allies.

Ahead of the meeting, McConnell said: "We'll see what the president has to propose. Members on both sides of the aisle will review it, and then we'll decide how best to proceed." 

Almost $600 billion (453 billion euros) of tax rises and spending cuts will to come into force on January 1 if a deal is not agreed.

Edging closer to the fiscal cliff

In a Senate floor speech at the opening of a post-Christmas session on Thursday, Reid, the top Democrat in Congress, criticized Republicans for failing to act.

"We are here in Washington working while the members of the House of Representatives are out watching movies and watching their kids play soccer and basketball and doing all kinds of things. They should be here," Reid said. "I can't imagine their consciences."

A day earlier House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner, the top Republican in Congress, urged the Democratic-controlled Senate to act first to avoid the fiscal cliff, offering to at least consider anything that the Senate produced. 

Without an agreement, tax rates for all Americans would revert to pre-2001 levels. and within days $109 billion in automatic spending cuts would start to take effect. The cuts are expected to affect federal government departments and the defense sector, as well as hitting unemployment insurance and veterans' support.

Together, the higher taxes and lower spending would remove some $600 billion from the US economy, threatening a new recession in 2013.

jm/ccp (Reuters, AP)

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