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Obama 'confident' U.S. won't fall off fiscal cliff

President Barack Obama expressed confidence that he and Congress would reach an agreement that will avoid the automatic spending cuts and tax increases that are scheduled to occur at the end of the year.

"I am confident we can get our fiscal situation dealt with," Obama said at a news conference in Bangkok, Thailand's capital, where he began a three-nation trip that will include the first visit by a sitting U.S. president to Myanmar.

Before Obama left Washington, he began on a new round of deficit-reduction talks with top Republicans and Democrats in a bid to avoid the combination of $607 billion in automatic tax increases and spending cuts that threatens to throw the country into a recession next year.

He arrived in Asia Sunday on his first foreign trip since re-election, underscoring the region's importance to U.S. growth. The Nov. 17-20 trip is built around a summit in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where Obama will meet with leaders from China, Japan, Russia, India and other Asia-Pacific countries.

Speaking in a region where some nations are still moving toward allowing greater political and economic freedom, Obama said the squabbling in Washington is an outgrowth of one of the key strengths of the democratic system because it ensures that all sides are heard.

"Democracy is a little messier than alternative systems of government but that's because democracy allows everybody to have a voice," he said at a joint news conference with Thailand's Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. "And that system of government lasts. And it's legitimate. And when agreements are finally struck, you know that nobody is being left out of the conversation and that's the reason for our stability."

While Obama has repeatedly called for an immediate extension of middle-class tax cuts, he has been less vocal on how Congress should try to avert the spending cuts that are also part of the so-called fiscal cliff.

His treasury secretary, Timothy F. Geithner, said Friday that a deal must be reached soon to prevent further damaging consumer confidence. The lack of agreement is "this huge cloud of uncertainty hanging over the economy," he said in Washington on Bloomberg Television's "Political Capital With Al Hunt."

As the peak of holiday shopping season approaches, "You'd want to do it as soon as you can," Geithner said.

Republicans are also signaling a willingness to compromise, with House Speaker John Boehner repeating his offer to discuss tax changes that would increase government revenue in exchange for spending cuts.

The administration also must negotiate to increase the federal debt ceiling.

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