US President Barack Obama on Saturday urged Congress to protect the middle class from an income tax increase and lay the groundwork for future economic growth as Senate leaders began work to avoid a "fiscal cliff".
"We've got to do what it takes to protect the middle class, grow this economy, and move our country forward," Obama said in his weekly radio and Internet address.
"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," he added.
The comments came after Obama met with top congressional leaders Friday and said that Senate Democrats and Republicans would work overtime this weekend to try to head off a $500 billion time bomb of tax hikes and spending cuts, dubbed the "fiscal cliff", before a January 1 deadline.
The president, sensing a mandate from his re-election last month, wants to raise taxes on the rich but exempt the middle class. Republicans want only to close tax loopholes to raise revenue and demand significant spending cuts in return.
But if nothing is done by the deadline, all taxpayers will see an increase.
Following the White House talks, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell will now head efforts to seek a deal before Tuesday. But any agreement would also have to pass the House of Representatives, where there is doubt that any deal signed off by the Democratic president would win favour with restive conservatives in the Republican caucus.
According to The Washington Post, the deal - a "stripped-down" version of earlier proposals dealing mainly with taxes - was already within reach. The newspaper said it would protect nearly 30 million taxpayers from paying the minimum tax for the first time.