President Barack Obama on Wednesday challenged victorious Republicans to work with him on new initiatives to boost the economy and create jobs, in the wake of the largest Congressional defeat in more than half a century.
The president took “direct responsibility” for his administration’s lack of progress on the economy, striking a sombre tone after American voters delivered what he called a “shellacking”’ at the polls halfway through his first term.
Democrats lost control of the House of Representatives in midterm elections on Tuesday and saw their majority in the Senate sharply curtailed, leading the president to vow to work with Republicans to find ways to boost the US’s spluttering recovery.
“I think that there is no doubt that people’s number one concern is the economy, and what they were expressing great frustration about is the fact that we haven’t made enough progress,” Mr Obama said at a press conference.
“We’ve stabilised the economy, we’ve got job growth in the private sector, but people all across America aren’t feeling that progress,” Mr Obama said.
“And they understand that I’m the president of the United States and that my core responsibility is making sure that we’ve got an economy that’s growing …So I think I have got to take direct responsibility for the fact that we have not made as much progress as we need to make,” he said.
With unemployment remaining at 9.6 per cent and the recovery still anaemic, more than 80 per cent of voters cited concern about the direction of the economy and Democratic management of it as their primary worry, according to exit polls.
Mr Obama said he was willing to negotiate on the Bush tax cuts, which are set to expire at the end of the year, making them potentially the first battle ground between the president and the new Republican-controlled House.
Republicans have insisted that all the cuts extended while the White House has said wants the tax relief for Americans earning more than $250,000 a year to lapse. Mr Obama on Wednesday reiterated that he would not allow the burden on the middle class to increase.
John Boehner, the incoming Republican speaker of the House, earlier said he hoped Mr Obama would co-operate with the new Republican majority, which he said wanted to work towards a “smaller, less costly, more accountable government”.
“We hope he is willing to work with us on these priorities,” he told reporters in Washington. “But as I have said, our new majority will be the voice of the American people as they expressed it so clearly [on Tuesday].”
Republicans have signalled they will push for spending cuts and will try to de-fund some of the administration’s stimulus projects, although they have not provided details.
Even after his “humbling” experience on Tuesday, Mr Obama reminded that voters that other “a couple of great communicators”, former presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, suffered the same midterm fate because of economic weakness. Both went on to win re-election.
Republicans swept the House in midterm Congressional elections on Tuesday with a net gain of more than 60 seats, well beyond the 39 they needed to take control of the lower chamber and the biggest win since 1948. Results in some districts are still being tallied.
The “wave” victory was predicted but still contained some noteworthy losses for Democrats, including the toppling of 14-term congressman Rick Boucher in Virginia’s 9th district and 10-term veteran Chet Edwards in Texas’ 17th district.
Democrat John Spratt, chairman of the House budget committee, lost his seat after 28 years representing South Carolina, as did Jim Oberstar, the chairman of the House transportation committee, who was seeking a 19th term.
However, Democrats did manage to hold onto the Senate, although their majority was much reduced. Votes are still being counted in Alaska, Colorado and Washington State, but it was clear that Democrats had the 51 seats they needed to retain control.
Republicans were successful in ousting incumbents Russ Feingold in Wisconsin and Blanche Lincoln in Arkansas, and winning the Illinois seat previously occupied by Mr Obama.
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