Obama scheduled to address 'cliff' after meeting at White House

President Obama and congressional leaders met for more than an hour Friday to try to reach a breakthrough on a fiscal deal. 

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Obama met with Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) also were in attendance at the closed-door meeting, as were Vice President Biden and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.

Obama is scheduled to speak about the effort to reach a deal at 5:45 p.m.

Pelosi told reporters at the Capitol that it had been a constructive and candid meeting and that Boehner had made it clear he could not move legislation in the House without the Senate acting first. 

"It's about working together to put something together, and we're eagerly awaiting what form that might take," she told reporters. "Let's have the Senate put something together and see where that takes us.

"Candor is constructive, and I think it moved us, but we'll see," she said.

GOP senators gathered around McConnell when he returned to the Senate following the meeting. Talks on how to avoid the tax hikes and spending cuts that make up the fiscal cliff have shifted to the Senate since lack of GOP support forced Boehner to pull a proposal from the House floor before it received a vote.

A source familiar with the meeting said Obama would not offer leaders a new offer at the White House but would push them to allow an up-or-down vote on legislation to prevent looming tax hikes and spending cuts set for January. 

Pressure grew as the meeting continued, with stocks plummeting after it began. The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed down 158.20 points.

White House staff members are set to speak on a conference call with CEOs at 5:30 p.m. on Friday. Obama will not be on the call, but Geithner, acting Office of Management and Budget Director Jeff Zeints and Obama adviser Valerie Jarret will take part, the White House said. 

At the meeting with congressional leaders, the source said Obama would ask that they either present a counterproposal that could feasibly pass both the House and Senate or allow an up-or-down vote on legislation that would extend tax rates for those making less than $250,000 annually, while allowing rates to rise on higher income. The president's plan also would extend unemployment insurance and likely disable the sequestration cuts automatically triggered at the beginning of next year.

The source said Obama would emphasize the principles he laid out in a press conference last week.

"He will ask them what they are willing to support if not to prevent us from going over the cliff, and if they don’t have a counterproposal that can pass the House and the Senate, he will ask to allow for an up-or-down vote," the source said. 

Some Republicans have suggested a compromise might be found in allowing Bush-era tax rates to rise only on annual incomes above $400,000. Talk of a "mini-plan" that would include an extension of current tax rates under $400,000 along with an extension of the current estate tax rate swept through the Capitol on Friday. 

"It’s going to begin in the Senate, in my estimation, to address this and to modify maybe that legislation to go to the $400,000 the president suggested," retiring Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) said earlier on Friday. 

Other Republicans criticized the White House, suggesting Obama needed to display more leadership as negotiations continued.

"You know, they're sitting around down at the White House like it was a Harvard Law Review meeting, just to show who's the smartest person in the room," said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.). "We don't need the smartest person in the room. We need someone to get up and say, 'OK, America, we need to deal with revenues; that's the bad news; and we also need to deal with the Medicare fiscal cliff, or you're not going to get your medical bills paid. And I've got a Congress who I'm going to have to persuade to do that, as well as the American people.' "

— Alexander Bolton contributed to this report.

— Posted at 3:09 p.m. and last updated at 5:16 p.m.