By TOM RAUM, Associated Press
Democrats strengthened their hold on the Senate but failed Tuesday to recapture the majority in the House of Representatives they lost two years ago. President Barack Obama, in his freshly authorized second term, will face the same divided Congress in 2013 that has bedeviled efforts to enact his major legislation.
"Now that the election is over, it's time to put politics aside and work together to find solutions," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who may have a slightly bigger working majority — but not as big as the filibuster-proof one Obama enjoyed his first two years in the White House.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who also gets to keep his job, offered to work with any willing partner, Republican or Democrat, to get things done. "The American people want solutions — and tonight, they've responded by renewing our majority," he told a gathering of Republicans.
But Boehner also said that by keeping Republicans in control of the House, voters made clear there is no mandate for raising taxes. Obama has proposed imposing higher taxes on households earning over $250,000 a year.
The first post-election test of wills could start next week when Congress returns from its election recess to deal with unfinished business — including a looming "fiscal cliff" of $400 billion in higher taxes and $100 billion in automatic cuts in military and domestic spending to take effect in January if Congress doesn't head them off. Economists warn that the combination could plunge the nation back into a recession.
Because of extreme election-year partisanship, a resolution of the matter had been put off until a post-election lame-duck session.
Reid said Wednesday the urgent attention must be given to the fiscal issues when Congress comes back to work. He said he's "not for kicking the can down the road" and that any solution should include higher taxes on "the richest of the rich."
In terms of the general partisanship and political divide on Capital Hill, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the voters did not endorse the "failures or excesses of the president's first term," but rather have given him more time to finish the job.
"To the extent he wants to move to the political center, which is where the work gets done in a divided government, we'll be there to meet him halfway," McConnell said.
Sen.-elect Tim Kaine of Virginia said Wednesday he believes Democrats and Republicans will come together to avoid the "fiscal cliff."
Kaine, who defeated Republican George Allen, said in an appearance on NBC's "Today" show that voters sent a message to Washington that they want "cooperative government." But he also said the election results show that the public doesn't want "all the levers in one party's hands" on Capitol Hill.
Newly elected Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren said she will go to Washington believing there is a "lot of room for compromise" on what to do about the deficit and the impending fiscal crisis.
Warren, a leading consumer advocate, told NBC that Congress can find a middle ground on the nation's financial problems that would bring down the deficit by cutting spending while raising revenues.
Speaking on "CBS This Morning," she said that those who voted for her opponent, Sen. Scott Brown, sent a message that people want lawmakers to work together and "I heard that loud and clear."
Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee said that Obama is looking forward to working with congressional Republicans. But he also said thee GOP has to get the message voters delivered: Ask wealthier folks to pay more to help cut the deficit.
"It's also important to realize that it was a decisive election," Van Hollen said on CNN Wednesday. "And one of the big issues in this election was whether or not we should take the balanced approach to reducing the deficit the president has talked about; a combination of cuts but also revenue (increases). It's very clear from the exit polling that a majority of Americans recognize that we need to share responsibility for reducing the deficit. That means asking higher income earners to contribute more to reducing the deficit."