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(RNN) - President Barack Obama said late Friday that he is "modestly optimistic" that the White House and Congress can reach a deal on the fiscal cliff. But there is little time left - the deadline is Dec. 31 before sweeping spending cuts and tax increases kick in.
"I'm optimistic that we can pass a bill in both houses in time," President Barack Obama said in a news conference in the White House press room after meeting with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
The president's tone was terse, reflecting concern about the impending deadline.
"Congress can prevent it from happening if they act right now," Obama said. "The American people are watching what we do here, their patience is already thin."
Reid and McConnell are working on a deal to take to their parties by Sunday - 24 hours before the deadline.
If there is none, the president has asked Reid to call for an up or down vote on a package that would avoid tax increases on the middle class and which would extend unemployment benefits to about 2 million Americans. An up or down vote is a parliamentary procedure that requires lawmakers to vote yea or nay on the matter without any maneuvers that would delay or prevent a vote.
Before the president spoke, Reid told reporters that there was no concrete proposal yet, and McConnell's tone seemed cautiously optimistic.
"We had a good meeting down at the White House. We are engaged in discussions, the Majority Leader and myself and the White House, in the hopes that we can come forward as early as Sunday and have a recommendation that I can make to my conference and that the Majority Leader can make to his conference," McConnell said on the floor of the Senate.
If a package were to pass the Senate, it would then go to the House of Representatives, which is controlled by Republicans.
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