UPDATE 1-US leaders 'not near finish line' on fiscal cliff talks -White House

Reuters Middle East

* Obama will meet with lawmakers after Thanksgiving

* White House mum on agreement's details

* Push for extending middle, low income tax breaks

intensifies

ABOARD AIR FORCE ONE, Nov 17 (Reuters) - U.S. President

Barack Obama will meet with congressional leaders in the week

after Thanksgiving to discuss the "fiscal cliff" of expiring tax

cuts and spending reductions, and he remains committed to

fighting off a tax increase for most Americans, White House

spokesman Jay Carney said on Saturday.

But Carney refused to provide details of the agreement Obama

is negotiating with the country's top lawmakers.

"Everyone expressed the desire to reach an agreement that

reflected the shared goal of achieving a balanced approach to

deficit reduction and that enabled the economy to continue to

grow and create jobs," Carney told reporters about Obama's

Friday meeting with the most powerful members of both parties in

Congress.

"There are a number of steps that I'm sure the president and

leaders will consider but I don't want to characterize what that

process will look like because we're not near the finish line,

by any means," he said.

If the federal government cannot reach a compromise, then

starting in January about $600 billion worth of tax increases

and spending reductions will kick in. Economists have warned

that the sudden shock of austerity, combined with consumers

putting more of their dollars toward taxes instead of shopping,

could plunge the United States back into a recession.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, House Speaker John

Boehner, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and House

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi discussed with Obama a framework

presented by Boehner on Friday. Boehner said the outline

included tax reforms and spending cuts.

Since winning re-election last week, Obama has spoken

extensively about his desire to extend the so-called "Bush tax

cuts" for middle- and low-income earners, while allowing the

breaks for the highest earners to expire. He has said that will

keep taxes low for 98 percent of Americans.

But Obama has been quieter on the automatic,

across-the-board spending cuts known as "sequestration," causing

some to wonder if he is working on a plan with different phases.

"Let's begin our work by actually doing what we all agree

on. Let's keep taxes low for the middle class," Obama said in

his weekly radio address on Saturday that did not mention

sequestration. "And let's get it done soon - so we can give

families and businesses some good news going into the holiday

season."

When asked if the president and congressional leaders had

agreed to a "two-tier" plan, Carney told reporters: "You're

getting way ahead of the process." He said Obama remains focused

on the expiring tax cuts for those with middle and low incomes.

Carney said both Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and

Chief of Staff Jack Lew "will be very involved in this process

but we don't have designated team leaders."

Along with meeting with members of Congress, Obama spent the

week talking to mayors, business executives, civic leaders,

progressive groups and unions about the fiscal cliff. After

their meetings they all expressed their support of keeping

sudden tax increases at bay.

Speaking on Fox News on Saturday, Representative Chris Van

Hollen, the top Democrat on the House Budget committee, said

Obama's re-election win gave him a mandate on raising taxes on

the wealthy.

"I think that's clear, both in the election results and in

the post-election polls, the exit polls," he said. "This was not

a side issue in the debate. This was a central part of the

conversation that we had."

Van Hollen said that since Obama "has laid out his revenue

plan very clearly," Boehner should lay out his plan.

"He has said some positive things but we haven't seen any

substance to his proposals," he said.

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