Top leaders of U.S. Congress confer on 'fiscal cliff'

WASHINGTON Wed Nov 7, 2012 11:59pm IST

House Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) addresses delegates during first day of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina September 4, 2012. REUTERS/Eric Thayer/Files

House Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) addresses delegates during first day of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina September 4, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Eric Thayer/Files

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Fresh off the election, the two top leaders of Congress began tentative discussions on Wednesday aimed at heading off potential economic disaster at year's end, when simultaneous tax increases and spending cuts threaten to throw the United States into a recession.

The leader of the Senate's Democratic majority, Harry Reid, said he had conferred Wednesday morning with his Republican counterpart in the U.S. House of Representatives, Speaker John Boehner, and both had agreed not to "draw any lines in the sand" for the time being.

At the same time, Reid stressed that Democrats were not likely to budge from their standard negotiating position, that tax increases should apply to the wealthy, not those in the middle class or below.

The re-election of President Barack Obama and Democratic gains in the U.S. Senate, Reid said, had validated the party's position on taxes.

"I'm willing to negotiate at any time on any issue ... I want to work together but I want everyone to understand you can't push us around," Reid said

Reid said it was his preference they reach agreement in the post-election session of Congress that begins next week on ways to avoid the so-called "fiscal cliff" - the combination of expiring tax cuts and automatic across-the-board reductions in federal spending due at year's end.

He said would prefer a solution in this year's so-called lame duck session rather than enact a temporary fix for the fiscal cliff and would push the issue into the newly elected Congress, which starts in January.

"I'm not for kicking the can down the road," he told reporters. "We need to solve it."

Boehner, will deliver a statement at 3:30 p.m. EST (2030 GMT) on Wednesday on the need for a bipartisan deal.

Boehner will make his case a day after American voters gave Obama a second term, but maintained a divided government, with Republicans still in control of the House and Democrats still holding the Senate.

Boehner will argue that Republicans and Democrats must "take steps together," a spokesman said in a press release.

(Reporting By Thomas Ferraro; Editing by Fred Barbash and Jackie Frank)

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