By Kenneth R. Bazinet and Corky Siemaszko
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITERS
President Obama acknowledged Wednesday that he took a "shellacking" at the hands of the Republicans but said he stands by his policies.
With the stinging rebuke, Obama acknowledged he is ready to work with GOP leaders to solve the nation's ills.
"This is something, I think, every President needs to go through," a somber Obama said a day after his Democrats were trounced at the ballot box and the Republicans took control of the House.
Obama said he understands the anguish of average Americans during these tough economic times - and conceded he hasn't done enough to let the people know he feels their pain.
"In the rush of activity we lose track of the ways that we connect with the folks that got us here in first place," he said. "Those letters I read every night, some of them break my heart. But nobody is filming me reading those letters."
Obama said he takes some comfort in the fact that "a couple great communicators, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, were standing at the podium two years into it (their first terms) getting these kind of questions."
It was an out-of-character admission from the normally cool and composed Obama whose critics have accused him of leading the nation more like a professor than a President.
Four years ago, President Bush admitted to receiving a "thumping" from the Democrats in the congressional elections. But he still managed to muster a grin.
There was no smile on Obama's face at the White House when he emerged for his first post-election-debacle press conference.
Obama quickly made news by signaling a willingness to possibly compromise on the Bush tax cuts. He had said in the past he wants to extend them to everybody except people making over $250,000-a-year.
"My goal is to make sure we don't have a huge spike in taxes for middle class families," he said. "It would be bad for our economy."
Obama also said he's willing to discuss ways of improving his signature healthcare reform, but won't scrap it altogether as many Republicans have demanded.
The President also reiterated his desire to scrap "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," another move opposed by many in the GOP.
When asked how if felt to get thrashed at the polls, Obama drew some chuckles by answering, "It feels bad."
"I take responsibility for it," he said.
Obama addressed the press after jubilant Republicans claimed a mandate to roll back much of what the President and the Democrats accomplished in the last two years.
"It's pretty clear the American people want a smaller, less costly, more accountable government here in Washington," said Ohio Rep. John Boehner, who is expected to be Speaker of the House when the new Congress begins work in January.
Obama said he's open to ideas from the GOP but "no one party will be able to dictate where we will go from here, we must find common ground."
The President said he got the message loud and clear that the "number one concern is economy" and that Americans are "deeply frustrated" by the high unemployment.
"They want jobs to come back faster, they want paychecks to go further," he said.
Obama insisted the economy has begun to recover since he took office but "people aren't feeling that progress."
"They don't see it," he said. "We have not made as much progress as we need to make."