Barack Obama signalled he was willing to compromise with Republicans - but refused to give ground on tax rises for the rich.
The newly re-elected US president declared he was not "wedded to every detail" of his approach to prevent a looming set of automatic tax rises and budget cuts that threaten to wipe out millions of jobs and push America back into an economic recession.
But he insisted his re-election gave him a mandate to raise taxes on wealthier citizens.
The changes, widely characterised as a dangerous "fiscal cliff" set to kick in on January 1, include a series of expiring tax cuts that were approved in the George Bush administration.
The other half of the problem is a set of punitive across-the-board spending cuts, looming only because a partisan panel of politicians failed to reach a debt deal. Put together, they could mean the loss of around three million jobs.
So began the "fiscal cliff" political manoeuvring that will determine which elected power centre - the White House or the House - bends more on its promises to voters.
An exhausting presidential race barely history, Washington was back quickly to governing on deadline, with agreement on a crucial goal, but divisions on how to get there.
Mr Obama invited the top four leaders of Congress to the White House next week for talks, just before he departs on a trip to Asia.