Republicans target health-care bill, government spending as Obama acknowledges election setback

President Barack Obama says it feels bad to see his Democratic allies lose their House seat in droves, and makes him question what he could have done differently. (Nov. 3)
By Anne E. Kornblut, Paul Kane and Shailagh Murray
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, November 4, 2010; 12:19 AM

Leaders of the new Republican majority emerged emboldened Wednesday, promising to slash the size of government and setting their sights on repealing President Obama's signature health-care overhaul.

House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) began to lay the groundwork for what is still a loosely defined Republican agenda, but he signaled his desire not to overreach or misinterpret the election results as giving his party a large mandate. GOP leaders agreed that their victory had more to do with what the public opposed than what they offered.

"It's pretty clear that the Obama-Pelosi agenda is being rejected by the American people," Boehner, the speaker-in-waiting, told reporters. "We're going to continue and renew our efforts for a smaller, less costly and more accountable government."

Looking exhausted despite a heavy coat of makeup, the president began to deal with the most severe blow of his political career. At a midday news conference, he said he would redouble his efforts to work with House Republicans, but he also firmly defended his policies of the past two years and suggested that his failures were more about messaging than anything else.

"Over the last two years, we've made progress. But, clearly, too many Americans haven't felt that progress yet, and they told us that yesterday," Obama said at the White House. "What yesterday also told us is that no one party will be able to dictate where we go from here."

Both sides responded to the largest Republican sweep in nearly half a century by saying all the right things: pledging to work together and to heed the will of the American people. But they offered few specifics and acknowledged that they don't share many areas of agreement.

With at least 60 seats gained, Republicans were poised to control their largest House majority since the Truman administration of the late 1940s. Their top priority, they said, is cutting the size of government.

But their ultimate target is Obama's health-care overhaul, which many new members ran on a promise to repeal. Boehner said he would move slowly, adding that it is important to "lay the groundwork before we begin to repeal this monstrosity."

With Democrats still in control of the Senate and Obama in command of the veto pen, Republicans will be hard-pressed to make good on their hopes of repeal. But Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), fresh from his victory over tea party candidate Sharron Angle (R), said he is open to "tweaking." Obama, too, expressed flexibility on some details, but said the public stands behind the new legislation.

Exit polls showed that roughly half the public wants to repeal the bill but that the other half wants to keep or expand it, setting the stage for a potential showdown.

Adjusting to his new role, Boehner appointed Republicans to a "transition committee" to examine both internal rules of the House and the agenda ahead. Republicans began a scramble for lower-level leadership posts and for committee chairs, which Boehner wants to empower.

Republicans were notably cautious in their interpretation of the election results, choosing not to claim a broad mandate.

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