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Obama Strikes Conciliatory Tone, Calls for Common Ground

Striking a conciliatory tone Wednesday, President Barack Obama addressed reporters at the White House in his first public appearance since the Republican Party snatched 60 U.S. House seats in an election rout.

President Barack Obama
CNBC
President Barack Obama

"We must find common ground in order...to make progress," the president said. "We want to engage both Democrats and Republicans in serious conversations about where we're going as a nation."

Addressing the contentious debate over the extension of Bush-era tax cuts, the president insisted that tax relief for the middle-class is critical to U.S. economic health, but still indicated no willingness to extend tax cuts for wealthy Americans making more than $250,000 a year.

"My goal is to sit down with Speaker-elect Boehner ... sometime in the next few weeks and see where we can move forward, first of all, in a way that does no harm," the president said.

He also appeared to dispute voter worries, in the wake of massive bailouts for Wall Street financial institutions and U.S. automakers, that his administration has made government intervention "the agenda."

"It felt as if government was getting much more intrusive into people's lives than they were accustomed to—now, the reason was it was an emergency situation," the president said.

"But it's understandable people said maybe this was the agenda, as opposed to a response to an emergency," he added.

He suggested that moving forward, his administration will work to identify ways to eliminate government redundancies and slow the pace of spending—a hot-button issue for the burgeoning U.S. Tea Party movement. The conservative movement is largely credited with sweeping many House Democrats from power on Tuesday.

Citing a bipartisan commission on deficits, Obama said that he hoped "they were able to arrive at a consensus where we can eliminate programs that don't work, cut back on government spending that is inefficient...but [doesn't cut] into the core investments that are going to make sure that we are a competitive economy."

He seemed to admit that legislative efforts in a Democratically-held Congress were not always successful.

"We were in such a hurry to get things done that we didn't change how things got done," Obama said, alluding towards voter frustration with a Washington establishment.

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Concerning health care, and the sweeping reform legislation passed by Congress and signed by the president this year, Obama suggested a willingness to listen to Republican suggestions to improve the law but indicated that the reform was "the right thing to do."

"What's going to be useful is for us to go through the issues that Republicans have issues on—not talking generally, but let's talk specifics," he said.

Earlier Wednesday, House Speaker-in-waiting John Boehner pledged 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. The congressman also appeared to reach across the aisle.

"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. Republicans also cut deeply into the Democrats' Senate majority, presenting Obama with a new political reality after two years of working with Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress.