DEVELOPING STORY: An administration official says two of President Barack Obama's top negotiators on the "fiscal cliff" will meet separately on Thursday with leading lawmakers.
The sessions are seen as an important step in determining how the government will avoid a year-end package of tax increases and spending cuts that could throw the economy into recession. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and White House legislative chief Rob Nabors will meet on Thursday with House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the meetings had not yet been publicly announced.
The meetings will take place on Capitol Hill.
This is an update to previous AP coverage below.
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama said Wednesday he believes that members of both parties can reach a "framework" on a debt-cutting deal before Christmas, making his case with a mix of optimism and pressure on congressional Republicans to keep tax rates from rising on the middle class.
Obama, pushing ahead with his campaign to increase revenue by hiking taxes on wealthier Americans, was joined by about a dozen middle-class Americans at a White House event in the midst of negotiation on how to avoid a so-called fiscal cliff at year's end when across-the-board tax hikes and steep spending cuts kick in.
"I am ready and able and willing and excited to go ahead and get this issue resolved in bipartisan fashion so that American families, American businesses have some certainty going into next year," Obama said.
He took special note of reports that some Republicans have expressed a willingness to extend the current expiring tax rates for households earning less than $250,000. Conservative Oklahoma GOP Rep. Tom Cole told GOP colleagues in a private meeting on Tuesday that it's better to extend tax cuts for 98 percent of taxpayers than engage in a prolonged fight that risks increasing taxes on everyone. Cole is a longtime GOP loyalist and a confidant of House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.
"I'm glad to see, if you've been reading the papers lately, that more and more Republicans in Congress seem to be agreeing with this idea that we should have a balanced approach," Obama said, noting that the Senate has already passed legislation to extend current rates to those middle class taxpayers.
"The Democrats in the House are ready to vote for that same bill today," he said. "If we can get a few House Republicans to agree as well, I'll sign this bill as soon as Congress sends it my way. I've got to repeat: I've got a pen. I'm ready to sign it."
He made an appeal to the public to pressure Congress, arguing that similar efforts late last year to extend a payroll tax cut resulted in congressional passage.
"When the American people speak loudly enough, lo and behold, Congress listens," he said.
While expressing confidence that he and Congress could strike a bargain for a "framework in the coming weeks,"
Obama says we need to "approach this problem with the middle-class in mind."
The president is urging the public to pressure Congress through social media, pointing to #My2K on Twitter — a reference to the estimated $2,200 tax increase a typical middle-class family of four would see if the Bush tax cuts expire.
The president is also meeting with corporate executives at the White House on Wednesday and then traveling to Pennsylvania on Friday to push for upper income bracket earners to pay higher tax rates. It's part of a campaign to pressure Republicans in Congress to support raising taxes on the wealthy.
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