Obama heads to Michigan auto plant pressing case on fiscal cliff
* Hope for deal after Boehner, Obama talks
* Two sides' proposals still far apart
By Fred Barbash
WASHINGTON, Dec 10 (Reuters) - President Barack Obama heads for familiar campaign ground Monday, an auto plant in Michigan, to press his case for tax hikes on the wealthy.
Obama's trip, part of an aggressive White House public relations effort, comes a day after a Sunday meeting with the Republican leader of the House of Representatives raised hopes of progress in talks to avert the "fiscal cliff" - automatic tax increases and spending cuts that could deliver a jolt to the economy if Congress fails to stop them by the end of the year.
The two sides declined to provide details about the meeting between Obama and Ohio Republican House Speaker John Boehner, though the fact that they were communicating face-to-face was taken as a hopeful sign.
"I'm a little more encouraged than I would have been if you had asked me about it a week ago," Erskine Bowles, co-chairman of the so-called Bowles-Simpson deficit reduction commission, said on CBS' Face the Nation Sunday.
"You know, we were going through the Kabuki theater, you know, one side making an offer and the other side rejecting it. And that's natural in any deal," said Bowles.
But "they've started to tango now. And, you know, any time you have two guys in there tangoing you have a chance to get it done," he said.
The stock markets have calmed recently after a series of wild swings, when nearly every utterance from a politician about the looming budget crisis caused wild swings in stock prices.
The S&P 500 index has nearly retraced the 5.3 percent slide it suffered in the first seven sessions after the Nov. 6 presidential election.
"The sentiment has definitely changed," said Andrew Wilkinson, chief economic strategist at Miller Tabak & Co in New York. "The market has become somewhat desensitized to headlines out of Washington because the fear of the economy hitting a wall in 2013 if we don't get a deal done has diminished."
Obama's visit to Daimler Detroit Diesel in Redford, Michigan, where he will tour the plant and speak to workers, is scheduled for 2:00 p.m. EST (1800 GMT).