House Speaker-in-waiting John Boehner pledged Wednesday that Republicans will use their new House majority to seek a "smaller, less costly, and more accountable government," and said he hoped President Barack Obama would join them.
"We hope he is willing to work with us on these priorities. But as I have said, our new majority will be the voice of the American people as they expressed it so clearly yesterday," Boehner said.
The 60-year-old Ohio Republican spoke on the morning after his party swept to power in the House, taking 60 seats away from the Democrats and leading for five more. Republicans also cut deeply into the Democrats' Senate majority, presenting Obama with a new political reality after two years of working with big Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress.
Boehner was joined at a news conference by Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, who headed the GOP campaign organization that helped gain 10 governorships.
McConnell was more pointed than Boehner, saying that what Democrats in the House "learned is that choosing the president over your constituents clearly doesn't work."
He said he hoped Obama would work with Republicans "on things like spending and debt and trade agreements and clean coal technology and nuclear power. ... The question is how do we meet in the middle."
Boehner said Speaker Nancy Pelosi had tried to reach him by phone. "She left me a very nice voicemail," he said, adding he felt confident there would be a smooth transition as Republicans take over the reins of power in the House.
He also said he didn't see any difficulty incorporating new GOP House members supported by the tea party into the chamber's Republican team. Many of them campaigned on the basis of deep spending cuts or other proposals that could prove intensely controversial, including steps to privatize Social Security or eliminate entire agencies of government.
In a classic Washington minuet, the Republicans held their news conference less than two hours before Obama was scheduled to field questions from reporters at the White House, his first public appearance since the voters delivered their verdict on his first two years in office.
The new Congress convenes in January, and Boehner said Republicans would use the interim to decide precisely how to proceed with an agenda aimed at helping an economy still struggling to emerge fully from the worst recession since the 1930s.
Lawmakers return to the Capitol in two weeks for a post-election session to wrap up loose ends from the past two years, and a vote is expected on extension of tax cuts passed during the Bush administration that are due to expire on Jan 1.
Obama and fellow Democrats have said they want to extend cuts for individuals at incomes under $250,000, while Republicans want cuts kept in place for all income levels.