Outside all the new the talk of openness, the same hard lines seemed in place.
Obama never expressly said that tax rates on top earners must return to the higher levels of the Bill Clinton era, leading to speculation that he was willing to soften the core position of his re-election campaign to get a grand debt deal with Republicans. "I'm not wedded to every detail of my plan. I'm open to compromise," he said.
But his spokesman, Jay Carney, seemed to slam that door. He said Obama would veto any extension Congress might approve of tax cuts on incomes above $250,000.
Obama's remarks were choreographed so that a diverse-looking group of Americans stood behind him and dozens more were invited to pack the East Room. In the weeks ahead, he plans to pull in the public as a way to pressure Congress.
"I am not going to ask students and seniors and middle class families to pay down the entire deficit while people like me, making over $250,000, aren't asked to pay a dime more in taxes. I'm not going to do that," said Obama.
He said voters plainly agreed with his approach that both tax hikes and spending cuts are needed to cut the debt.
"Our job now is to get a majority in Congress to reflect the will of the American people," Obama said.
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.