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If Cut, Fiscal Deal Will Pale Against Expectations

The interview was taped Saturday while aides to the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, and to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) were engaged in negotiations in the Capitol in hopes of having something to present senators as early as Sunday.

"I was modestly optimistic yesterday, but we don't yet see an agreement," Obama said, referring to his mood Friday. "And now the pressure's on Congress to produce."

The trimmed ambitions of today are a far cry from the upbeat bipartisan rhetoric of just six weeks ago, when the leadership of Congress went to the White House to set the stage for negotiations to come.

"I outlined a framework that deals with reforming our tax code and reforming our spending," Boehner said as the leaders gathered on the White House driveway on Nov. 16.

"We understand that it has to be about cuts, it has to be about revenue, it has to be about growth, it has to be about the future," House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said at the time. "I feel confident that a solution may be in sight."

And Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) offered a bold prediction: "There is no more let's do it some other time. We are going to do it now."

That big talk is over for now.

Senate negotiators were haggling over what threshold of income to set as the demarcation between current tax rates and higher tax rates. They were negotiating over estate limits and tax levels, how to extend unemployment benefits, how to prevent cuts in Medicare payments to doctors and how to keep a minimum income tax payment designed for the rich from hitting about 28 million middle class taxpayers.

But the deal was not meant to settle other outstanding issues, including more than $1 trillion in cuts over 10 years, divided equally between the Pentagon and other government spending. The deal also would not address an extension of the nation's borrowing limit, which the government is on track to reach any day but which the Treasury can put off through accounting measures for about two months.

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