President says immediate action needed on fiscal cliff

      President Barack Obama says "the hour for immediate action is here" on a deal to avert the fiscal cliff.

      The president says he remains "optimistic" that an agreement can be reached in Congress before a looming year-end deadline to avoid tax increases and spending cuts.

      If Congress can't reach a deal, the president says Congress should allow a vote on a basic package that would preserve tax cuts for middle-class Americans while extending unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless and working toward a foundation for a broader deal.

      The president says an hourlong meeting Friday with congressional leaders was "good and constructive."

      Senate leaders say they hope to reach a compromise that could be presented to lawmakers by Sunday, little more than 24 hours before the deadline.