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Obama, Congress Begin Contacts on Fiscal Challenge

President Barack Obama,Michelle Obama and their daughters Sasha and Malia, walk from Marine One to board Air Force One at Chicago O'Hare International Airport, Nov. 7, 2012, in Chicago.
U.S. President Barack Obama is back in Washington after his decisive election win over Republican Mitt Romney. The most pressing issue for the president and Congress is avoiding the so-called "fiscal cliff" at the beginning of the new year.

Obama already is taking steps to accomplish what he said in his speech in Chicago upon accepting a second term as president.

On his way to a strong Electoral College and narrow popular vote defeat of Mitt Romney, Obama said Americans voted for "action, not politics as usual," and said he is ready to get to work with Congress.

"In the coming weeks and months, I am looking forward to reaching out and working with leaders of both parties to meet the challenges we can only solve together: reducing our deficit; reforming our tax code; fixing our immigration system; freeing ourselves from foreign oil. We've got more work to do," said President Obama.

President Obama telephoned Republican and Democratic leaders of the House of Representatives and U.S. Senate, including Republican House Speaker John Boehner.

A White House statement said he reiterated his commitment to "finding bipartisan solutions to reducing the deficit in a balanced way, cutting taxes for middle class families and small businesses, and create jobs."

But compromises in Washington are difficult, and time is running short to avoid the so-called "fiscal cliff" of expiring Bush-era tax cuts and mandatory spending cuts.

On Wednesday, Boehner voiced willingness to compromise on the contentious issue of new revenue, saying this could be accomplished through tax reform.

Boehner signaled he is open to new negotiations on a broader agreement to solve the nation’s deficit and debt issues.

"What we can do is avert the cliff in a manner that serves as a down payment on and a catalyst for major solutions enacted in 2013 to begin to solve the problem," said Boehner.

To receive Republican support, Boehner said Obama would have to agree to reduce spending and address the need for changes in huge entitlement programs.

On Wednesday, Senate Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid, who would have to be part of any compromise, said the election sent an overriding message.

"This was really the message the American people sent from all over and that is, they're tired of these partisan gridlocks," said Reid.

Thomas Mann, a political analyst at the Brookings Institution, says the president may have some openings to break through gridlock, but the overall atmosphere of polarization in the country has not changed.

"Looking at the individual members of the respective coalitions of the parties and the intensity of the level of partisan voting, so we see no new coalitions emerging, no glimpse of anything on which you would try to build a consensus in Washington based on the behavior of the electorate," said Mann.

With what he sees as his election mandate, Obama is expected to step up consultations with Boehner and other congressional leaders on the approaching fiscal cliff.

How Obama and the White House respond to Boehner's overtures will play out in coming days as negotiations on the fiscal cliff intensify.