Obama says immediate action needed on fiscal cliff

 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 hour-long 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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