President Obama welcomed congressional leaders to the White House Friday for the start of talks aimed at averting a pending fiscal cliff, telling reporters that "we're all aware that we have some urgent business to do."
He said the challenge for lawmakers -- who failed a year ago to reach a sweeping agreement on cutting back the deficit -- is to "make sure that we are able to cooperate together, work together to find some common ground, make some tough compromises and build some consensus to do the people's business."
He cautioned that Americans are looking for "action. They want to see that we are focused on them, not on the politics here in Washington."
Obama has said he'll refuse to extend tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans as part of a deal to tame the yawning deficit and he said he hoped the talks signal "the beginning of a fruitful process," which he said would include reducing the deficit.
The talks are taking place in the White House's Roosevelt Room with House Speaker John Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Vice President Joe Biden, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Jack Lew and Gene Sperling also at the table.
The gathering wasn't without a few chuckles. After delivering his remarks, Obama said he had one more announcement: Saturday is Boehner's birthday.
"We're not going to embarass him with a cake because we didn't know how many candles we'd need," Obama said, shaking hands with Boehner and giving him a presidential pat on the back.
The White House later noted that Boehner turns 63 tomorrow. he two laughed and shook hands, a