WASHINGTON – Senate leaders rushed to assemble a last-ditch agreement to avoid middle-class tax increases and possibly delay steep spending cuts in an urgent attempt to find common ground after weeks of postelection gridlock.

The focus turned to the Senate after President Barack Obama held an hour-long, high-stakes meeting with the leaders of Congress on Friday afternoon to try to avoid the automatic austerity measures that begin to take effect Jan. 1 that threaten to send the economy sputtering into another recession