U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid pledged to use the expanded number of Senate Democrats to push for a “balanced approach” to reaching a year-end deficit- reduction agreement.
The Nevada Democrat spoke to reporters a day after Democrats increased their Senate majority over Republicans by two seats, from the current 53-47 to 55-45 if a Maine independent caucuses with Democrats as expected.
Reid said President Barack Obama’s re-election and Republicans’ failed bid to take over the Senate majority showed that voters want higher taxes for top earners to be part of a deal to avert $607 billion in tax increases and spending cuts set to start in 2013.
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“The vast majority of American people: rich, poor, everybody agrees: That the rich, the richest of the rich, have to help a little,” Reid said in Washington.
The majority leader offered to work with Republicans to reach consensus, saying he had a “pleasant conversation” this morning with House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican. Reid said he won’t “draw any lines in the sand” and wants to work with House Republicans to reach a deal in a post-election session that begins next week.
“I am not for kicking the can down the road,” Reid said. “I think we’ve done that far too much.”
Democrats won’t have the 60 votes needed to advance legislation over Republican opposition, meaning they will need Republican support to get anything done.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said in a statement last night that Republicans will meet Obama and congressional Democrats halfway to the extent they want “to move to the political center, which is where the work gets done in a divided government.”
Boehner said in a statement that if yesterday’s election carried a mandate, “it is a mandate for both parties to find common ground and take steps together to help our economy grow and create jobs, which is critical to solving our debt.”
Democrats retained control of the Senate by holding on to crucial seats in Virginia, Montana, Missouri and North Dakota. They ousted a Republican in Massachusetts, where Elizabeth Warren beat incumbent Scott Brown, and captured an Indiana seat after incumbent Senator Dick Lugar was beaten by a fellow Republican in a primary vote.
Failed Republican attempts to defeat Democrats Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Jon Tester of Montana, Bill Nelson of Florida and Sherrod Brown of Ohio helped tip the scale to Democrats. In the last Senate race to be decided, Democrat Heidi Heitkamp defeated Republican Rick Berg in North Dakota to keep retiring Senator Kent Conrad’s seat in the Democratic column.
Maine independent Angus King, who is expected to caucus with Democrats, will take over the seat held by Republican Olympia Snowe, who is retiring.
Reid told reporters he spoke with King last night and expects him to say “soon” which party he will caucus with.
The electoral landscape this year was supposed to favor Republicans, who were defending 10 seats compared with 23 Democratic seats on the ballot.
“We have a period of reflection and recalibration ahead for the Republican Party,” said Texas Senator John Cornyn, a Republican who led his party’s campaign effort. “The reality is candidates from all corners of our GOP lost tonight. Clearly we have work to do in the weeks and months ahead.”
The only seat Republicans moved to their side is in Nebraska, where Deb Fischer, a Tea Party-backed Republican, defeated former Senator Bob Kerrey, a Democrat, to replace retiring Democratic Senator Ben Nelson. Seats held by retiring Republican Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas and Jon Kyl of Arizona will remain in the Republican column, with lawyer Ted Cruz winning in Texas over former state Representative Paul Sadler and Representative Jeff Flake defeating former U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona in Arizona.
Republicans who successfully defended seats include Bob Corker of Tennessee, Roger Wicker of Mississippi, John Barrasso of Wyoming, Orrin Hatch of Utah and Dean Heller of Nevada.
Continued gridlock would be probable next year in a Congress with an unchanged balance of power, said Jennifer Duffy, Senate analyst for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report in Washington. Both parties will “find things in this election to encourage them to continue to behave as they’ve behaved the last two to four years,” she said
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