GOP deciding which direction to go with new authority after midterm victory

In an exclusive interview with "60 Minutes," President Obama speaks with Steve Kroft about voter frustration and the losses by Democrats in the midterm elections.
By Shailagh Murray and Perry Bacon Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 5, 2010; 12:23 AM

Jubilant over their landslide victory in the House and their pickup of six Senate seats, Republican leaders nevertheless face a dilemma as they debate how to exert their new authority.

Their energetic conservative base is eager to thwart President Obama's every move, and if Republicans fail at doing so, they risk disappointing the supporters who turned out in vast numbers for Tuesday's midterm elections.

But if Republicans overreach, and ultimately deliver very little, independents could return to the Democratic fold in time to reelect Obama.

In a speech to the conservative Heritage Foundation, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) promised that his emboldened party will try to repeal the health-care law that was passed this year, to block spending increases for most federal agencies and to cut some funding that Congress has already approved.

He reiterated that his overriding goal is to "deny President Obama a second term in office."

Yet McConnell has also spent recent weeks studying Republicans' 1994 midterm election victory, in which the party won back Congress, and urged his colleagues not to forget one of its lessons: the power of the veto. With every flourish of President Bill Clinton's pen, Republicans "ended up being viewed as failures, sellouts or both."

McConnell warned: "We have to be realistic about what we can and cannot achieve, while at the same time recognizing that realism should never be confused with capitulation."

On Thursday, a few modest areas where the two parties might come together emerged.

Obama invited the GOP leadership to attend a bipartisan meeting at the White House on Nov. 18. It will focus on economic issues, particularly the tax cuts passed in 2001 and 2003 that are due to expire at the end of the year. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Obama continues to oppose a permanent extension of tax cuts for the wealthiest earners but added, "I think there's common ground to be found in how to move forward."

Democrats and the president might agree to a temporary extension of tax cuts on upper income.

They are likely to go along with an expected House GOP measure that would cut the budget of the House itself. The chamber's costs are now more than $1.4 billion a year. The transportation committee, for instance, which doles out federal money for local highway and mass-transit projects, has 75 members - almost one of every five lawmakers in the House.

The House also will vote on a new package of rules for running the chamber. House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), who is almost certain to be elected speaker, has said he would open up debate to give the Democratic minority more opportunity to be heard and would mandate a 72-hour review period for all bills.

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