WASHINGTON (AP) - Working with Congress against a midnight deadline, President Barack Obama said Monday that a deal to avert the "fiscal cliff" was in sight but not yet finalized. The emerging deal would raise tax rates on family income over $450,000 and individual income over $400,000 a year, increase the estate tax rate and extend unemployment benefits for one year.
"There are still issues left to resolve but we're hopeful Congress can get it done," Obama said at a campaign-style event at the White House. "But it's not done."
In the building New Year's Eve drama, the parties still were at an impasse over whether to put off the automatic, across-the-board spending cuts set to take effect at the beginning of the year and if so, how to pay for that.
One official said talks were focused on a two-month delay in the across-the-board cuts but negotiators had yet to agree on about $24 billion in savings from elsewhere in the budget. Democrats had asked for the cuts to be put off for one year and be offset by unspecified revenue.
The president said whatever last-minute fixes are necessary, they must come from a blend of tax revenue and constrained spending, not just budget cuts.
Officials emphasized that negotiations were continuing and the emerging deal was not yet final. And a confident Obama, flanked by cheering middle class Americans in a White House auditorium, jabbed Congress, saying lawmakers were prone to last-minute delays.
"One thing we can count on with respect to this Congress is that if there's even one second left before you have to do what you're supposed to do, they will use that last second," he said.
Unless an agreement is reached and approved by Congress at the start of the New Year, more than $500 billion in 2013 tax increases will take effect immediately and $109 billion in cuts will be carved from defense and domestic programs
Though the tax hikes and budget cuts would be felt gradually, economists warn that if allowed to fully take hold, their combined impact — the so-called fiscal cliff — would rekindle a recession.
The current proposal in the works would raise the tax rates on family income over $450,000 and individual income over $400,000 from 35 percent to 39.6 percent, the same level as under former President Bill Clinton. Also, estates would be taxed at 40 percent after the first $5 million for an individual and $10 million for a couple, up from 35 percent to 40 percent.
Unemployment benefits would be extended for one year. Without the extension, 2 million people would lose benefits beginning in early January.
A Republican official familiar with the plans confirmed the details described to The Associated Press.
The officials requested anonymity in order to discuss the internal negotiations.
The president said his hopes for a larger, more sweeping deal have been dashed and said that such an accommodation was not possible "with this Congress at this time."
But even with this fight not finished, Obama warned Republicans, specifically, about the battles still ahead. He said he would not accept any debt-reduction deals in the new year that rely on slashing spending without raising taxes, too. Cuts alone won't happen anymore "at least as long as I'm president, and I'm going to be president for the next four years."