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Obama to weigh in on fiscal cliff as hours dwindle on compromise

Pete Souza/Official White House photo

President Barack Obama is interviewed by David Gregory of NBC's "Meet the Press" on Saturday, Dec. 29, 2012 in an official White House photo by Pete Souza.

As the hours remaining for action dwindle, Washington and the nation prepared to hear more from President Barack Obama about the outlines of an acceptable deal to avert the so-called fiscal cliff while Democratic and Republican leaders on Capitol Hill labored through what would normally be a relaxing holiday weekend.

After tasking the Senate with generating a compromise that would avert the onset of across-the-board automatic tax hikes and spending cuts on Jan. 1, the president was set to address some of the trade-offs he might accept in an interview Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press."

President Barack Obama meets with NBC's David Gregory on Meet the Press Sunday morning. Gregory explains that for the president, this has become a matter of principle.

The round-the-clock talks were the byproduct of a meeting at the White House on Friday between the president and congressional leaders from both parties as the urgency to avoid the New Year's Day deadline increases. Those discussions produced a shift between the generally unilateral negotiations between Obama and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and toward new negotiations between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and his Republican counterpart, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

PRESS PASS: Obama on 'Meet the Press' in Sunday exclusive

For his part, Boehner has demanded that the Senate act first to produce legislation, on which he said the House would act — to either approve or amend it.

But the Saturday negotiations between Reid and McConnell appeared — outwardly, at least — to yield little in the way of consensus. Obama said Friday that if the Senate leaders could not strike a deal, he would ask Reid to advance bare-boned legislation that would preserve tax rates on income under $250,000 and extend expiring benefits for the unemployed.

Related: Senate leaders work to beat fiscal cliff clock

A Senate Democratic aide said Saturday afternoon that Democrats were preparing to move ahead with that very plan and were not particularly optimistic about the prospects of reaching an accord with McConnell, whom they characterized as offering proposals he knows the Democrats will not accept.

Reid did not go to the Capitol on Saturday, the aide said, and talks played out primarily at a staff level and talks were expected to continue.

A Senate Republican aide, meanwhile, cautioned against expecting an announcement or news before tomorrow afternoon, at which point senators will be briefed then about the weekend talks. The House will also return for work on Sunday evening, around 6:30 p.m. ET.

"We have been in discussions all day, and they continue. And we will let you know as soon as we have some news to make," McConnell told reporters Saturday as he left the Capitol. "We have been trading paper all day and talks continue into the evening."

NBC's Mark Murray explains the "blame game" that would ensue in Washington should the U.S. go over the "fiscal cliff."

With his interview Sunday morning, Obama might look to add a new sense of urgency to the last-minute negotiations to avoid the fiscal cliff, which itself is an outgrowth of lawmakers' inability to reach any consensus in the past two years about how to address taxes and the rising national debt.

Related: More coverage of 'Meet the Press'

Obama led Democrats this year by campaigning for re-election on allowing the 2001 Bush tax cuts — which the president in 2010 agreed extend for two years past their original expiration date — to end for the wealthiest Americans. Republicans struck conciliatory notes after Obama's victory in November, but that language has given way over the course of negotiations to more familiar sniping over taxes and spending.