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Obama Takes Responsibility for Voter Frustration

President Barack Obama said Wednesday that voters frustrated by the pace of economic recovery dictated a Republican takeover of the House in midterm elections, adding, "As president I take responsibility" for a failure to restore job growth more quickly.

The president said he was eager to sit down with the leaders of both political parties "and figure out how we can move forward together."

"It won't be easy," he said, noting the two parties differ profoundly in some key areas.

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He spoke at a White House news conference on the day after Republicans captured control of the House and cut deeply into the Democratic majority in the Senate.

The election was a humbling episode for the once-high-flying president, and the change showed during his news conference. Gone were his smiles and buoyant demeanor, replaced by somberness and an acknowledgment that his policies may have alienated some Americans.

"I think people started looking at all this, and it felt as if government was getting much more intrusive into people's lives than they were accustomed to," he conceded. But he wasn't talking surrender either.

"No one party will be able to dictate where we go from here," he said, a clear warning to Republicans that he won't simply bow to their demands for a sharply conservative switch in economic policy.

Mr. Obama insisted his signature accomplishment - health care reform - was "the right thing to do" even though many Republicans ran against it in the midterm elections. Republicans routed Democrats in scores of races - and are now promising to try to repeal the health care law.

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Mr. Obama said he'd be open to reasonable changes in the legislation. But he contended that most voters would not want to repeal provisions such as eliminating a coverage gap in Medicare prescription drugs for seniors.

The president also addressed the issue of tax cuts, reiterating that extending tax cuts for middle class Americans is one of his top priorities. He wouldn't say whether he's willing to change his position to accommodate Republicans who want to extend tax cuts for all Americans, including top income earners.

The Bush-era tax cuts are set to expire at the end of the year.

With his comments, Mr. Obama largely followed the lead of Republican leaders who said earlier in the day they were willing to compromise - within limits.

With unemployment at 9.6 percent, both the president and the Republicans will be under pressure to compromise. Yet neither must lose faith with core supporters - the Republicans with the tea party activists who helped them win power, Mr. Obama with the voters whose support he will need in 2012.

The president said the economy had begun a recovery since he took office but Americans became wary when they saw government bailouts of failing banks and two of the Big Three U.S. automakers.

Many Republicans campaigned by calling for repeal of the health care legislation Mr. Obama won from Congress, but the president said repeal was a nonstarter.

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"If Republicans have some ideas" for cutting costs of health care or making other changes in the bill, he said he would be glad to take a look.

"There are going to be some examples of where we can tweak and make progress," he said. "But I don't think if you ask the American people, `should we stop trying to close the doughnut hole that helps seniors get prescription drugs, should we go back to where people with pre-existing conditions can't get health insurance' ... I don't think you'd have a strong vote from people saying, `Those are provisions I want to eliminate.'"

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