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Obama backer Pritzker sees 'fiscal cliff' deal taking time

By Paritosh Bansal

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Penny Pritzker, a U.S. businesswoman and longtime supporter of President Barack Obama, said an agreement with Republicans over the looming federal debt crisis could take six to nine months and may require the influence of ordinary Americans on legislators.

Pritzker, who was national co-chair of the president's re-election campaign - Obama for America 2012 - said in a phone interview on Wednesday that the president had told her his top priority after the election was resolving the fiscal cliff problem - a $600 billion package of federal spending cuts and tax increases set to begin in January that could push the U.S. into a new recession.

"I think he will look for common ground, try to find a place where he thinks a deal can be made, and my guess is you will end up having to take this to the American people to have their influence on their legislators as well," said Pritzker, who also heads private investment firm PSP Capital Partners and is an heiress to Chicago's Pritzker family fortune.

"This is tough because you have people who have taken intransigent positions," she said. "You have to find the middle ground here."

Wall Street firms, corporate America and investors are focused on what will happen in January unless Congress agrees to cancel, alter or delay the cuts and tax increases. Such an agreement is expected to be tied to a long-term plan to cut the U.S. government's budget deficit.

U.S. stock prices are likely to be hurt if the economy goes off the cliff and into a recession. On Wednesday, U.S. stocks dropped more than 2 percent in part on concerns about such a downturn.

The problem is expected to be the top priority of the "lame-duck" Congress that will convene soon.

Pritzker did not expect a major breakthrough before the end of the year.

"I don't know how this will transpire. But probably you won't have a comprehensive, complete, fully fleshed out deal between now and December 31," she said. "No congressman I have talked to, no senator I have talked to expects that."

"So my guess is this is a process, which could take six months or nine months or something. I just don't know," she said.

Pritzker's range of business and charitable interests includes serving on the boards of Hyatt Hotels Corp and the Pritzker Foundation as well as starting businesses such as real estate investment firm Artemis Real Estate Partners.

She was the national finance chairman for Obama during his 2008 presidential bid but took on a smaller role in his re-election campaign. Media reports cited the president's harsh criticism of the rich and his policies toward businesses as part of the reason for her pullback.

However, Pritzker said she spent election night with the president and other Obama supporters in Chicago.

When asked if she would consider a deeper involvement in the second Obama administration, Pritzker said she would be open to it. In 2008, she was seen as a candidate for the commerce secretary job but did not pursue that.

She declined to say whether she would consider that job now, but added, "I feel as though I have played a role in the first administration, and I will always be available to help the second administration."

(Reporting By Paritosh Bansal; Editing by Martin Howell and Steve Orlofsky)

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