Obama begins negotiations to avoid the 'fiscal cliff'

The US Congress was back in session yesterday for the first time since the election, confronting the huge task of stitching together a compromise on spending and taxes to avoid the "fiscal cliff" which threatens another recession and higher unemployment.

President Barack Obama was kicking off a series of meetings with labour officials, business executives and congressional leaders. At a news conference today, Mr Obama will step up pressure on Congress to act.

The "fiscal cliff" refers to the expiry of Bush-era tax cuts, along with cuts in spending, which will be imposed automatically if politicians are unable to agree on a plan to cut the deficit.

The President hopes to turn to labour and progressive groups to build support for what he has called a "balanced" plan to reduce the debt while protecting spending priorities.

A meeting with business executives yesterday, many of whom supported Mitt Romney, aimed at enlisting their help in convincing Republicans to support higher taxes on the wealthy.

Mr Obama has invited the top four leaders of Congress to the White House on Friday for talks before he departs on a trip to Asia.