WASHINGTON, Dec. 28 (UPI) -- U.S. President Barack Obama said Friday Senate leaders were working on a budget deal "that will pass both houses" of Congress before the end of the year.
The president told reporters at the White House his hour-plus meeting earlier in the day -- with Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner; House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio; House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.; Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.; and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. -- was "a good and constructive discussion" on averting the co-called fiscal cliff, a combination of rising income tax rates and federal spending cuts set to take effect Tuesday if Congress does not act.
"I'm optimistic we may be able to reach an agreement that will pass both houses in time," Obama said.
The president said Reid and McConnell were working on a possible agreement, but if they were unable to produce one, he will urge Reid to bring what he called a basic package up for a vote in the Senate. Obama said such a package would preserve current tax rates on the first $250,000 of everyone's income, extend long-term unemployment insurance benefits for about 2 million workers and "lay the groundwork for future cooperation on economic growth and deficit reduction."
Pelosi said the meeting had been a frank discussion of the issues.
"Candor is constructive and I think it moved us," Pelosi said.
She said Obama agreed that whatever solution emerges, it will have to come from the Senate, rather than the House, which is charged in the Constitution with originating any tax legislation. The Senate could amend a bill passed by the House during the summer that preserved the Bush-era tax cuts for everyone.
"We're waiting to see what Leader Reid and Leader McConnell can find as far as a legislative path to go forward," Pelosi said. "I would say the president led in that direction of saying the speaker says we need to hear from the Senate so let's have the Senate put something together and see where that takes us."
Much of U.S. covered by snow
PITTSBURGH, Dec. 28 (UPI) -- Almost two-thirds of the continental United States had snow cover Friday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said.
A winter storm that hit some areas hard and delivered unusual early snow to parts of the South has been blamed for 11 deaths. The storm also fouled highways and disrupted air travel.
Bonnie Schneider, a CNN meteorologist, described the widespread snow as unusual, especially so early in the winter. She said that last winter the top snow coverage was 48 percent in the Lower 48 states -- compared to 65 percent Friday -- and that was in February.
By early Friday, half an inch of snow had been reported in Dallas this winter, the Chicago Tribune said. What was really unusual was that the Texas city outpaced Chicago, which usually averages about 8 inches of snow by late December and had recorded 0.4 inches.
By Friday afternoon, light snow in Chicago put it ahead, with 0.7 inches.
Another storm was moving east. Weather forecasters said portions of northern Maine could receive more than a foot of snow Friday while Canadians prepared for whiteout conditions, CNN reported.
Indian gang-rape victim dies
NEW DELHI, Dec. 28 (UPI) -- The 23-year-old woman who was gang-raped on a bus in New Delhi this month died early Saturday at a hospital in Singapore, hospital officials said.
The woman -- a student whose name has not been reported -- had been listed in critical condition at the hospital, where she was taken for treatment. She was pronounced dead at 4:45 a.m., The (Singapore) Straits Times reported.
The hospital said late Friday there had been signs of organ failure, the newspaper said.
Six men raped her Dec. 16 on a bus she and her boyfriend were riding on. They beat her boyfriend and then threw both victims off the bus.
The woman had undergone three surgical procedures since the attack.
Scarsdale diet doctor killer dies
NEW HAVEN, Conn., Dec. 28 (UPI) -- Jean S. Harris, the private school headmistress who became infamous as the Scarsdale diet doctor killer, has died, her son says. She was 89.
Harris died Sunday at an assisted-living center in New Haven, Conn., son James told The New York Times.
Harris was convicted of second-degree murder for the March 1980 shooting death of Dr. Herman Tarnower, a 69-year-old cardiologist who wrote the bestseller "The Complete Scarsdale Medical Diet" with whom she had a 14-year relationship, in his Purchase, N.Y., home.
Harris, a 56-year-old divorced mother of two, was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison. She served 12 years at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility where she helped teach other female prisoners child-rearing skills and established a center so babies born to inmates could be near their mothers. After her release, she created a foundation that raised millions of dollars for scholarships for children of women in New York state prisons.
What drove her to kill him, authorities said, was his dalliance with his office assistant, Lynne Tryforos, a 37-year-old divorced woman.
Harris testified at her trial that she bought a pistol with the intention of killing herself at his estate. She said he tried to stop her when she pulled the gun from her purse and it fired, striking him. She said the gun went off a second time while they struggled, but she couldn't account for the other two bullets that struck him.
The jury found her guilty.