Congressional Republicans Claim Mandate For Change

The question on Capitol Hill after House Republicans put away the champagne glasses is whether they will work with Democrats or block everything. What is the message they take away from the election, and what are the political limitations they face?

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Its MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

Now that we have the election results, we're going to try to figure out what they mean.

INSKEEP: Throughout todays program we're hearing from Republicans, Democrats, pollsters, pundits, insiders and outsiders. And in the next few minutes, we'll hear from the elections biggest winners: the Republicans who captured the House, and made big gains in the Senate.

MONTAGNE: GOP leaders called the results a repudiation of what the Democratic Congress did under President Obama. The question now is how much the Republicans can actually change.

Here's NPR's David Welna.

DAVID WELNA: House Minority Leader John Boehner clearly can't wait to become speaker of the House. Yesterday at the Capitol, he gathered reporters to give his verdict on an election that took at least 60 seats away from House Democrats and gave them to Republicans.

Representative JOHN BOEHNER (Republican, Ohio): Well, the American people have spoken. I think it's pretty clear that the Obama-Pelosi agenda is being rejected by the American people. They want the president to change course, and I think it's change course we will.

WELNA: And even though Republicans failed to win the 10 seats they needed to take control in the Senate as well, that chamber's minority leader, Mitch O'Connell, declared it was a happy day for him. McConnell also made clear that Republicans won't hesitate to use their increased numbers to hold things up in the Senate.

Senator MITCH MCCONNELL (Republican, Kentucky): We're determined to stop the agenda Americans have rejected, and to turn the ship around. Well work with the administration when they agree with the people, and confront them when they don't.

WELNA: But if Republicans can block Democrats in the Senate, Democrats can do the same to GOP initiatives. Both sides need to muster 60 votes for anything to move forward. McConnell appeared confident he can count on the support of at least some Democrats.

Sen. MCCONNELL: Its clear that we're going to have to have some kind of bipartisan agreement and hopefully, that will be on the issues of spending and debt, which is what the American people are asking us to address. In others words, I anticipate - we'll see - but I anticipate enough Democrats to come in our direction on spending and debt where we can actually make progress for the American people.

WELNA: The GOP leaders also endorsed making all the Bush-era tax cuts permanent, including those for upper-income levels, which President Obama says ought to expire. In the House, Boehner said Republicans will take aim at the new health-care overhaul, which he called a monstrosity.

Rep. BOEHNER: That means we have to do everything we can to try to repeal this bill and replace it with common-sense reforms that'll bring down the cost of health insurance.

WELNA: Later at the White House, President Obama said he'd welcome improvements to the health-care law, but warned against efforts to undo it.

President BARACK OBAMA: Wed be misreading the election if we thought that the American people want to see us, for the next two years, re-litigate arguments that we had over the last two years.

WELNA: And in Nevada, newly re-elected Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said when it comes to cooperation, the ball is now in the Republicans' court.

Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada; Senate Majority Leader): No is not the answer. It has to be yes. Not our yes, but a combined yes - something we work out, a consensus yes. Time for politics is over.

WELNA: It may be over for Majority Leader Reid but clearly, it's not over for Republicans.

David Welna, NPR news, the Capitol.

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