WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama challenged congressional Republicans Wednesday to let taxes rise on the wealthiest Americans, noting he campaigned successfully for re-election on that stand 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 refuse to raise tax rates.
"I believe this is solvable," he said during the news conference.
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 tomorrow.
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."
The president's remarks were his first extended public discussion of the issue that is dominating the postelection session of Congress, and they followed statements earlier in the week from Boehner and Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Senate GOP leader.
Both men have said they, too, want a compromise and have said they are willing to support additional tax revenues as part of a deal that includes tax reform and measures to recast the government's largest benefit programs. But they appear to rule out any legislation that raises tax rates.
Obama is expected to welcome the top leaders of both political parties to the White House Friday for their first postelection face-to-face discussion of the fiscal cliff, the combination of tax increases and across-the-board spending cuts that will take effect, unless Congress intervenes, as 2012 gives way to the new year.
Looking ahead to his second-term agenda, Obama pledged quick action on comprehensive immigration reform, but said climate change would be a tougher slog.
Obama said he expected that a comprehensive immigration reform bill would be introduced "very soon after my inauguration." The White House is already engaged in conversations with Capitol Hill, and the president said a bill should include a "pathway to legal status" for millions of immigrants who are in the United States illegally but haven't committed crimes unrelated to immigration.
On climate change, Obama said he wants to open a national "conversation" on the issue, which was virtually absent during the presidential campaign until superstorm Sandy hit the East Coast.
Taking on climate change in a serious way will require "tough political choices" at a time when Americans are more focused on the economy and jobs, Obama said. "If the message is somehow we're going to ignore jobs and growth simply to address climate change, I don't think anybody's going to go for that. I won't go for that."
But if Republicans and Democrats can shape an agenda that helps create jobs and makes "a serious dent in climate change," then the American people will be supportive, Obama said.
Obama said he would soon start conversations with Congress and industry to sound out their positions.