So much for cooperation.
Two days after voters split control of Congress, Republicans and Democrats already were fighting over the direction they’ll take when they come back to Washington, with the GOP promising votes to repeal the health care law and Democrats saying that’s “out of touch with the middle class.”
One potential concession came from the White House, where a spokesman said President Obama might be open to an extension of all of the Bush tax cuts, if only for a limited time.
But on Capitol Hill, the old dividing lines were redrawn.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said the election results were a vindication of his party’s two-year strategy of opposing the entire Obama agenda, and that if the president wants to get anything accomplished for the remainder of this term, he will have “to move in our direction.”
Mr. McConnell also said Senate Republicans will try “repeatedly” to repeal the health care law — but expect to fail as long as Mr. Obama is in office.
Just as unchastened despite their party’s poor showing, Democrats retorted that trying to repeal health care would show the GOP is out of touch with what voters wanted.
“Republicans are seriously misreading this election if they claim a mandate to drag us back to the days of out-of-control health care spending and insurance company abuses and discrimination,” said Sen. Tom Harkin, the Iowa Democrat who heads two panels critical to implementing the law.
It was left to the White House to play referee — sort of.
“There will be time for another political campaign, but we just finished one. Candidates weren’t elected to have more fighting in Washington or to re-fight the battles of the past two years,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said.
Mr. Obama has invited congressional leaders to come to the White House later this month and figure out what common ground can be found.
Although they may share the government, they are not yet partners.
Mr. McConnell said he continues to believe Republicans’ goal should be to make Mr. Obama a one-term president, and House Republican leaders laid out broad plans to have committees scrutinize the administration’s actions.
Tuesday’s elections gave Republicans control of the House and substantially bolstered their numbers in the Senate, meaning the GOP now has a greater ability to block those parts of Mr. Obama’s agenda with which they disagree.
Democrats, who spent much of the past two years trying to overcome Republican filibusters on health care, financial regulations and expanded government spending, said that, by sharing power, Republicans will now have to negotiate and make some accomplishments.
Cooperation, they said, was the message of the elections.
But Republicans rejected that.
“Tuesday’s election was not about Republicans; it was about the Democrats. They got a report card. They got an F,” Mr. McConnell said in a speech to the Heritage Foundation.
He said voters Tuesday were not patting Republicans on the back for what they might do, but rather were rewarding them for what they already have stopped Mr. Obama from doing — the obstructions that earned them the label of the “Party of No” from Democrats.
“If we had not done this, the administration would never suffer the consequences for pushing policies Americans opposed,” Mr. McConnell argued, saying that by opposing Mr. Obama at every turn, the GOP was giving voters “a clear alternative.”
The Kentuckian was buoyed by the results of Tuesday’s elections.
Despite defending six open seats in the Senate, not a single Republican-held state was lost Tuesday. In the House, the GOP lost just three seats, all in heavily Democratic districts.
“The White House has a choice: They can change course, or they can double down on a vision of government that the American people have roundly rejected,” Mr. McConnell said. “If they choose the former, they’ll find a partner in Republicans. If they don’t, we will have more disagreements ahead.”
Mr. Obama this week already has moved, at least slightly, on two major issues.
He said he no longer believes he can pass a broad energy bill that would impose limits on greenhouse gas emissions, and instead called for all sides to work on renewable and clean energy sources, such as nuclear power.
The White House also signaled movement on tax cuts — the issue that deeply divided Congress just before it left town in September, and that will await lawmakers when they return this month.
Mr. Obama earlier said the Bush tax cuts that went to wealthier Americans must be allowed to lapse. But asked about a temporary extension, Mr. Gibbs said Thursday that Mr. Obama would “be open to having that discussion and open to listening to what the debate is on both sides of that.”
Still Mr. Gibbs said the extension couldn’t be open-ended.
“The president does not believe — and I think would not accept — permanently extending the upper-end tax cuts,” the spokesman said.
Other possible areas of cooperation listed by Mr. Gibbs include ratifying a nuclear arms reduction treaty, working on child nutrition and acting on the recommendations of the commission Mr. Obama established to suggest ways to reduce the deficit.