WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama challenged congressional Republicans Wednesday to let taxes rise on the wealthiest Americans on both economic and political grounds, noting he campaigned successfully for re-election on the point and contending it would instantly ease the threat of the "fiscal cliff" plunging the nation back into recession.
"A modest tax increase on the wealthy is not going to break their backs," Obama said of the nation's top income earners. "They'll still be wealthy," he said at his first news conference since winning a second term.
At the same time, the president stressed he was amenable to compromise on other approaches from Republicans who say they will stand opposed to a tax increase. "I believe this is solvable," he said during the news conference.
President Barack Obama gestures as he answers a question during a news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington Wednesday.
At a news conference of his own a short while later, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, agreed that a bipartisan "spirit of cooperation" has been evident since the election that augurs well for talks expected to begin Friday at the White House.
However, he said of the president's proposal, "We are not going to hurt our economy and make job creation more difficult which is exactly what that plan would do."
Obama seemed eager to avoid issuing any ultimatums. Asked if it would be a deal-breaker for Republicans to refuse to allow the top tax rate to revert to 39.6 percent from the current 35 percent, he sidestepped.
"I just want to emphasize I am open to new ideas if the Republican counterparts or some Democrats have a great idea for us to raise revenue, maintain progressivity, make sure the middle class isn't getting hit, reduces our deficit."
Wall Street wasn't encouraged that agreement was becoming more likely. The Dow Jones industrial average dropped 185 points for the day.