About 60 percent of voters said in exit polls Tuesday that taxes should increase, either for everyone or those making over $250,000. Left unsaid by Obama was that even more voters opposed raising taxes to help cut the deficit.
The scheduled year-end changes, widely characterized as a dangerous "fiscal cliff," include a series of expiring tax cuts that were approved in the George W. Bush administration. The other half of the problem is a set of punitive across-the-board spending cuts, looming only because partisan panel of lawmakers failed to reach a debt deal.
Put together, they could mean the loss of roughly 3 million jobs.
Since the election, Boehner and Obama have both responded to the reality that they need each other.
Compromise has become mandatory if the two leaders are to avoid economic harm and the wrath of a public sick of government dysfunction.
Obama says he is willing to talk about changes to Medicare and Medicaid, earning him the ire of the left. Boehner says he will accept raising tax revenue and not just slashing spending, although he insists it must be done by reworking the tax code, not raising rates. The framework, at least, is there for a broad deal on taxes.
Yet the top Democrat and Republican in the nation are trying to put the squeeze on each other as the public waits for answers.
"This is his opportunity to lead," Boehner said of Obama, not long before the president said: "All we need is action from the House."
Obama said the uncertainty now spooking investors and employers will be shrunk if Congress extends — quickly — the tax cuts for all those except the most-well off.
The Senate has passed such a bill. The House showed no interest on Friday in Obama's idea.
Obama and Republicans have tangled over the Bush tax cuts for years. The president gave in to Republican demands to extend the cuts across the board in 2010, but he ran for re-election on a pledge to allow the rates to increase on families making more than $250,000 a year.
Also lurking is the expiration of the nation's debt limit in the coming weeks. The last fight on that nearly led the United States to default on its bills.
When asked if he would try to use that issue as leverage, Boehner said it must be addressed "sooner rather than later."
The national debt now stands above $16 trillion. The government borrowed about 31 cents of every dollar it spent in 2012.
Associated Press writers Andrew Taylor, Donna Cassata, Julie Pace, Matthew Daly, Jim Kuhnhenn and Ken Thomas contributed to this report.
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