Obama turns to familiar refrain in post-election press conference: Blame Bush

President Obama opened his first White House press conference in eight months Wednesday with a familiar refrain: Blame Bush.

Before diving into an explanation of how he wants to avoid the so-called "fiscal cliff" -- and imploring House Republicans to approve legislation to raise taxes on high earners -- Obama sought to once again remind Americans that he took office, four years ago, during a recession that started with the George W. Bush administration.

"Right now our economy is still recovering from a very deep and damaging crisis, so our top priority has to be jobs and growth," Obama said. "We've got to build on the progress that we've made."

The reminder was a refrain on the campaign trail, and apparently will be part of the rhetorical repertoire going forward in a second term.

The president on Wednesday also renewed his call for Congress -- meaning the Republican-controlled House -- to let taxes rise for top earners while passing a bill "right now" that shields everybody else from a hike.

More On This...

"We should not hold the middle class hostage while we debate tax cuts for the wealthy," Obama said.

The president went on to insist that any agreement that deals with the so-called "fiscal cliff" allows taxes to rise for households making more than $250,000. "When it comes to the top 2 percent, what I'm not going to do is extend further a tax cut for folks that don't need it," he said.

Republicans, though, worry that failing to preserve the current rates for everyone will end up hurting the economy by hurting small businesses.

The appearance marked the first scheduled, solo news conference for Obama since March. The president spent much of the year campaigning for a second term -- now that he's won it, the president faces a barrage of challenges and controversies.

On the heels of Election Day, the administration is reeling from the controversy surrounding former CIA Director David Petraeus' resignation. The storied general abruptly announced his departure Friday, citing an extramarital affair. According to official accounts, the White House was not informed about the situation until last Wednesday -- however, the investigation had been ongoing for months, raising questions about why the Justice Department and FBI did not notify others in the administration or on the Hill.

Obama said Wednesday he was withholding judgment on the process. He also said he had "no evidence" that classified information was disclosed that in any way would negatively impact security.

Further, Obama continues to face criticism from lawmakers about the Libya terror attack, both in terms of requests for security before the attack that were not met and how the administration described the attack after the fact.

But most pressing on the domestic front is the so-called "fiscal cliff," the combination of tax hikes and spending cuts that will hammer the economy come January unless Congress and the White House strike a deal. Obama is meeting with lawmakers Friday to kick of negotiations; they have less than two months to reach an agreement. Congressional budget analysts say that a failure to avert the cliff would trigger another recession next year.