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A Big Disconnect As 'fiscal Cliff' Clock Ticks

At the White House, Obama met with a group of small business owners. Participants described the hour-long meeting as a listening session for Obama, with the business owners urging him to reach an agreement.

"They had one message for the president, which is they need certainty. Please get this deal done as soon as possible. They very much want consumers out there knowing that they're going to have money in their pockets to spend. That's why it's so important to pass the extension of the tax cuts for 98 percent of consumers, 97 percent of all small businesses," said Small Business Administration head Karen Mills.

Obama planned to meet Wednesday with more than a dozen leaders from large corporations, including Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs, Marissa Mayer of Yahoo!, Brian Roberts of Comcast and Arne Sorenson of Marriott.

Obama hits the road on Friday, visiting a Pennsylvania toy factory and broadcasting his case to extend current tax rates for all but those families making more than $250,000 a year.

Private White House negotiations with top aides to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and others are cloaked in secrecy, with no evidence of headway.

"There's been little progress with the Republicans, which is a disappointment to me," Reid, a key negotiator, told reporters on Tuesday. "They talked some happy talk about doing revenues, but we only have a couple weeks to get something done. So we have to get away from the happy talk and start talking about specific things."

Republicans say it's Obama and his Democratic allies on Capitol Hill who are holding back, and they point to a balance of power in official Washington that is little changed by the president's re-election. Republicans still control the House, despite losing seats in the election. Democrats control the Senate.

"Democrats in Congress have downplayed the danger of going over the cliff and continue to rule out sensible spending cuts that must be part of any significant agreement to reduce the deficit," said Michael Steel, spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.

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