WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Flush with re-election vigor, President Barack Obama called Friday for House Republicans to immediately pass a bill already approved by the Senate to extend current tax rates for middle class Americans while allowing a tax hike for wealthier citizens.
In his first public comments since winning Tuesday's vote, Obama expressed openness to negotiate with Congress on how to deal with pending tax hikes and spending cuts that create the so-called fiscal cliff facing the economy at the end of the year.
However, he also repeated a longstanding demand from well before the election that Republican opponents to any kind of tax increase relent to the will of the White House and the Senate, and now the American people as well, on letting tax rates increase on income over $250,000.
Nobody in either party wants the middle class, identified as families making less than $250,000 a year, to see taxes increase at the end of the year when lower rates set during the administration of former President George W. Bush will expire, Obama said.
"That makes no sense. It would be bad for the economy," he told a White House gathering of what aides described as middle class Americans. "Let's extend middle class tax cuts right now. Let's do that right now. That one step would give millions of families, 98% of Americans, 97% of small businesses, the certainty that they need going into the new year."
Noting the Senate previously passed a bill to extend the tax cuts to the middle class, but not income over $250,000, Obama said "all we need is action from the House."
"I've got the pen," he said, reaching into his pocket to hold one up as the crowd applauded. "I'm ready to sign the bill right away. I'm ready to do it."
The president also announced he invited congressional leaders from both parties to the White House next week to launch talks on finding a solution to the fiscal cliff, as well as consensus on how to strike a comprehensive deal to reduce the nation's chronic federal deficits and debt.
While offering to consider unspecified reforms to costly entitlement programs sought by Republicans, Obama' s initial salvo in what will be a long and tough negotiation signaled he was unwilling to back down on the tax issue that was a central theme of his election campaign.
"Our job now is to get a majority in Congress to reflect the will of the American people," the president said.
Obama and House Speaker John Boehner are positioned as the lead negotiators in a showdown between Democrats and Republicans over the issue identified by voters as a top priority: reducing the chronic federal deficits and debt considered a threat to economic prosperity and national security.
Boehner, R-Ohio, signaled a willingness to deal on Friday but also maintained hard-line GOP opposition to any tax increase.
"Raising tax rates will slow down our ability to create the jobs everyone says they want," Boehner said at a news conference, noting that higher taxes on the wealthy will hit small business owners.
But he also said that "everything on the revenue side and on the spending side has to be looked at."
Boehner called on Obama to take the lead in offering a workable plan that Republicans can accept but stopped short of providing details, saying: "I don't want to limit the options available to me or limit the options that might be available to the White House."
Asked if tea party conservatives or others in his caucus might oppose an agreement they don't like, Boehner responded: "When the president and I have been able to come to an agreement, there has been no problem in getting it passed here in the House."
Obama was scheduled to deliver a statement on the economy at the White House later on Friday.
Boehner's hand was weakened by the election results Tuesday that returned Obama to the White House, broadened the Democratic majority in the Senate and slightly narrowed the Republican majority in the House.
Retiring GOP Rep. Steve LaTourette of Ohio told CNN that a poll commissioned by centrist Republicans showed that voters wanted Congress to fix the nation's fiscal problems rather than cling to political orthodoxy.
"They didn't send the same bunch back to town in this election because they love what they're doing," LaTourette said. "They sent him back because they don't trust either side, but they do expect them to get this thing done."
While the result was another split Congress like the current session that has become a symbol of legislative dysfunction, both sides have signaled a possible new openness to an agreement that was unreachable in the past two years.
In the final days of the campaign, Vice President Joe Biden referred to private talks with members of Congress on the pending fiscal impacts of expiring tax cuts and mandatory budget cuts. This week, Boehner called on Obama to work with him to complete a comprehensive deficit reduction agreement -- the "grand bargain" that eluded them last year.