President Barack Obama urged the leaders of Washington's divided government on Friday to join him in "tough compromises" to keep the U.S. economy from plummeting and taxes from rising for millions of Americans in the new year.
"I think we're all aware that we have some urgent business to do," Obama said at the White House with the nation's top Republican, House Speaker John Boehner, at his side. Sitting to the president's other side was the Senate's leader, Democrat Harry Reid, as negotiations over the "fiscal cliff" began in earnest.
Without a deal between Obama and Congress, a series of tax increases and spending cuts will kick in on Jan.1, with potential to throw the nation into recession. All sides have a deep political stake in coming to terms, but Obama and Republicans in Congress are at a stalemate on raising taxes on incomes over $250,000.
On his turf, Obama made the only statement before reporters were asked to leave the Roosevelt Room.
Obama used the moment before the TV cameras to try to set a tone of compromise, right down to the body language. Obama ribbed Boehner about his birthday on Saturday, saying he would not embarrass the speaker with a cake because he was not sure how many candles would be needed.
"Yeah, right," a smiling Boehner said as the two literally poked some fun at each other and then shook hands.