WASHINGTON -- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the most high-profile Democratic survivor of an election where Republicans made big gains in Congress, said Wednesday that he is willing to compromise with the emboldened minority but not at the expense of middle-class Americans.
"I really look forward to working with new members to find shared solutions to our shared problems," Reid told reporters in a conference call a day after Tuesday's elections saw Republicans win control of the House and gain at least six seats in the Senate.
Reid, who won a hard-fought re-election in Nevada, said he had spoken with Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and told him that he wants to find common ground, particularly on ways to get people back to work.
Meanwhile, McConnell at a Capitol news conference said Republicans stand ready to work with the Obama administration "when they agree with the people" and "confront them when they don't."
McConnell said the election was just the first step in changing direction in Washington -- hinting at 2012, when Republicans hope to win the Senate and the presidency.
The Senate will return Nov. 15 for a lame-duck session to either complete a budget for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1 or pass another "continuing resolution" to keep federal agencies going. They also might consider extending Bush-era tax cuts that will expire at year's end.
Reid offered few details on the lame-duck agenda, or on the agenda for next year. He said he plans to speak with his Democratic caucus to hammer out a strategy moving forward.
But Reid was clear about where he wants to go, particularly with the tax cuts.
"One thing we are focused on like a laser is going to be to cut taxes for the middle class. I hope Republicans will not block that," Reid said.
Republicans want to extend all Bush-era tax cuts, including those for Americans earning more than $250,000 a year. Reid said that won't happen because including large wage earners would add too much to the national debt.
Reid also will block efforts to repeal health care reform legislation, something that incoming House Speaker John Boehner pledged to do in the 112th Congress. Reid, however, said he is willing to look only at "tweaks" to the law.
Reid also struck a populist tone in suggesting he "is not done fighting big banks" that have failed to lend money to small businesses looking to hire new employees, and would look closely at corporations shipping jobs overseas.
"We want to put power back in the hands of the middle class," Reid said.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said that newly elected Republican senators will come into office with a clear understanding that voters want smaller government.
"They want us to stop spending and get America back to work," said Cornyn, the party's chief strategist on this year's Senate races.
Republicans, he said, will look to reduce the federal budget to 2008 levels and to ease regulations that discourage business growth.
Despite the politician's overtures of cooperation, political analysts remain skeptical that the gridlock and partisan sniping that has characterized the Senate in recent years can be avoided.
"It's all happy talk," said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics. "Congress is so partisan that I don't think they could agree on a resolution for Mother's Day."
E. Scott Adler, an associate professor of politics at the University of Colorado, does not anticipate Congress will compromise on health care reform or big budget cuts.
"Don't expect any movement on those issues," he said. "Compromise is going to occur on the more pressing and compulsory legislation."
Former Iowa Rep. Jim Nussle, a Republican, said that any cooperative spirit offered by congressional leaders probably would break down, given the political dynamics that will flow from the election results.
"Republicans will be emboldened and Democrats frustrated," he said.
Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault contributed to this report. Contact Stephens Washington Bureau reporter Peter Urban at email@example.com or 202-783-1760.