WASHINGTON - U.S. President Barack Obama made his first public comments on Friday since his re-election victory, calling on congressional Republicans to immediately freeze tax rates for middle-class Americans while hiking them for the wealthy.
Appearing invigorated and energetic, Obama and Vice President Joe Biden bounded into the elegant East Room of the White House to cheers and a standing ovation from about 200 administration officials and supporters.
In the entrance hall outside the East Room before their appearance, the United States Marine Band played jaunty tunes as an aura of celebration infused the White House.
Beneath the East Room's massive, ornate chandeliers, media were packed tight, even crammed up against the back of the president's famous TelePrompTer. Obama, meantime, made his remarks standing in front of a group of citizens identified by White House aides as "middle-class Americans."
His electoral triumph on Tuesday, Obama said, proves Americans are behind him on the issue of ending George W. Bush's tax cuts on those with incomes of more than US$250,000 a year.
Neither party wants the middle class to see their taxes increase on Jan. 1, when the lower rates implemented during Bush's administration are set to expire, Obama said.
"That makes no sense. It would be bad for the economy," he said.
"Let's extend middle class tax cuts right now. Let's do that right now. That one step would give millions of families, 98 per cent of Americans, 97 per cent of small businesses, the certainty that they need going into the new year."
He then reached into his pocket to pull out a pen, urging congressional Republicans to send him a bill — already passed by the Senate — that would settle the taxation issue once and for all.
"I've got the pen," he said as the crowd applauded. "I'm ready to sign the bill right away. I'm ready to do it .... All we need is action from the House."
Obama also invited congressional leaders to the White House next week for talks on pending tax hikes and how to avoid massive spending cuts that have created the so-called "fiscal cliff" confronting Americans in just a few short weeks. But he insisted that tax increases on the wealthiest Americans must be part of any deal.
He also wants to reach a consensus on how to negotiate a deal to reduce America's mammoth national debt.
Yet another showdown is looming between Democrats and Republicans over the chronic federal deficits and debt that were identified as a top priority by voters on election day.
"Our job now is to get a majority in congress to reflect the will of the American people," Obama said.
Earlier in the day, John Boehner, the speaker of the House of Representatives, suggested he was willing to negotiate but insisted Republicans are dead-set against any tax increases on the wealthy.
"Raising tax rates will slow down our ability to create the jobs everyone says they want," Boehner said, adding that higher taxes on the wealthy will punish small business owners.
But he did add: "Everything on the revenue side and on the spending side has to be looked at .... I don't want to limit the options available to me or limit the options that might be available to the White House."