WASHINGTON - A chastened President Barack Obama signaled a willingness to yield to Republican demands on tax cuts and jettisoned a key energy priority yesterday, less than 24 hours after he and fellow Democrats absorbed election losses he called "a shellacking."
But he bluntly swept aside any talk of repeal of his signature health care law - right after the House Speaker-in-waiting, Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, vowed Republicans would do everything they could to wipe the legislation off the books.
Boehner, 60, a two-decade veteran of Congress, spoke at what amounted to his national debut as head of an incoming conservative majority that will include long-experienced lawmakers and tea party-backed political newcomers alike.
"Our new majority will be the voice of the American people as they expressed it so clearly ," he declared.
Separately, the Federal Reserve announced new steps designed to further lower interest rates on loans and enhance job creation, using powers denied mere politicians. Taken together, the events confirmed the economy as a key issue in a country with 9.6 percent unemployment, record home foreclosures and disappointingly slow growth.
They also underscored a dramatic overnight power realignment after two years of grinding partisanship in Congress followed by a coarse and costly campaign.
For all the uncertainty they loosed, there was little ambiguity about the election results. House Republicans picked up 60 seats to capture a majority and led for five more, ending a four-year span in which Nancy Pelosi served as the first female speaker in history.
The GOP picked up at least six seats in the Senate in races reflecting both the peril and the potential of a tea party movement that emerged during the campaign. Tea party favorites were elected to Senate seats in Florida, Kentucky and Utah, but they lost in Nevada, Delaware and Colorado - at a time when Republican victories in all three would have created a 50-50 tie.
Speaking to reporters in the Capitol, Boehner said he and fellow Republicans hope the president "will continue to be willing to work with us" on the priorities of creating jobs and cutting spending.
But, he added: "We're going to continue to renew our efforts for a smaller, less costly and more accountable government here in Washington, D.C."
Obama struck similar themes at his own news conference a few hours later, saying he was eager to sit down with the leaders of both political parties "and figure out how we can move forward together." He added, "It won't be easy," noting the parties differ profoundly in key areas.
Sounding more conciliatory than in the past, the president said he was open to compromise with Republicans on their demand for an extension of all of the Bush-era tax cuts due to expire on Jan. 1, including those that apply to upper-income earners. Obama also virtually abandoned energy legislation, hopelessly stalled in the Senate, that includes economic incentives to reduce carbon emissions from power plants, vehicles and other sources.
The health care law drew more forceful answers from both men, with Boehner calling it a "monstrosity" that would "kill jobs in America, ruin the best health care system in the world and bankrupt our country." He added Republicans had to do "everything we can" to try to repeal it.
Obama would hear none of it. "I think we'd 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," he said.