WASHINGTON (CN) – President Obama said the results of this week’s midterm elections revealed voters’ concerns about the use of taxpayer money, the tone in Washington and the high unemployment rate. “It’s clear that the voters sent a message, which is they want us to focus on the economy and jobs and moving this country forward,” he said Thursday.
He urged his cabinet to “take that message to heart.”
Democrats lost control of the House of Representatives in Tuesday’s elections, losing 60 seats to Republicans, resulting in a total of 239 Republicans and 186 Democrats in the House, with 10 races still undecided.
Democrats retained control of the Senate, losing six seats to Republicans, with Democrats holding 52 seats and Republicans occupying 46, with two races undecided.
“I won the election in 2008, one of the reasons, I think, that people were excited about the campaign was the prospect that we would change how business is done in Washington,” Obama said at a press conference Wednesday. “And we were in such a hurry to get things done that we didn’t change how things got done. And I think that frustrated people.”
Obama invited Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.; Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, likely the next Speaker of the House; Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.; and current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to the White House the first week Congress returns from elections for its lame duck session on Nov. 18.
“It’s not just going to be a photo op,” Obama said.
He said the leaders would talk “substantively” about responding to Americans’ concerns, expressed in the ballot box, during the lame duck session.
Obama said his biggest priority is extending Bush-era tax cuts for the middle class. Obama has said he supports extending tax cuts for those who make $250,000 or less while letting them expire for those who make $250,000 or more.
Republicans have voiced support for extending all Bush-era tax cuts, including for upper-income earners.
“On the economy, we will work hard to ensure Democrats don’t raise taxes on anybody, especially in the middle of a recession,” McConnell told a group at the Heritage Foundation on Thursday.
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Thursday that the administration was open to compromise on tax cuts.
Obama also said Congress needs to extend unemployment insurance, advance business incentives for investing in the United States and finalize the business tax structure to give businesses certainty.
“We can’t afford two years of just squabbling,” Obama said, adding that other countries were “moving” and becoming more competitive in the manufacturing, services, education and scientific sectors.
Obama promised that his administration would help “root out waste in government,” work to increase efficiency in government agencies, and generate ideas to reduce the unemployment rate, which has hovered at 9.6 percent.
Obama also invited newly elected Democratic and Republican governors to the White House on Dec. 2.
McConnell, who recently said his biggest priority over the next two years would be to make Obama a one-term president, stuck to his remarks on Thursday.
“Over the past week, some have said it was indelicate of me to suggest that our top political priority over the next two years should be to deny President Obama a second term in office,” McConnell said. “But the fact is, if our primary legislative goals are to repeal and replace the health spending bill, to end the bailouts, cut spending, and shrink the size and scope of government, the only way to do all these things it is to put someone in the White House who won’t veto any of these things.”
McConnell credited recent Republican obstructionism in Congress for the party’s gains in midterm elections.
“Tuesday was a referendum, not a choice,” McConnell said. “It was a report card on the administration and anyone who supported its agenda.”
On Wednesday, Obama defended government actions such as the stimulus bill and financial reform, saying they were necessary responses to an emergency, but he said he saw why people might think they looked like “potential overreach.”
McConnell said Republicans would do as much as they could to repeal the health care bill, but because “a Democrat holds the veto pen,” a “straight repeal” may have to wait.