WASHINGTON The most unpopular U.S. House of Representatives in modern times was left pretty much unchanged by voters on Tuesday with control firmly in Republican hands, according to projections.
A contented House Speaker John Boehner told party faithful at an election night rally that he and fellow Republicans had "offered solutions and the American people want solutions and tonight they responded by renewing our House Republican majority."
While Boehner said he would work with "any willing partner," he warned political opponents that he would continue to battle against Democratic moves to raise taxes on the rich.
"With this vote the American people also made clear there's no mandate for raising tax rates," Boehner said.
As election results pointed to a Republican win in the House, the partisan brand of politics the party practiced for the past two years appeared not to have seriously damaged its brand.
When the new House is sworn in next January, it will look much like the House that nearly brought about government shutdowns and a historic default on debt in 2011.
The bitter partisanship in the 435-member chamber - a thorn in Democratic President Barack Obama's side - was thought to have contributed to record low public approval ratings of Congress that at one point dipped to 10 percent.
If voters did not like the overall tenor of Congress for the past two years, they seemed to remain satisfied with their individual members.
Election results were still coming in, but it appeared as if Boehner will preside over a House next year that is close to the 240 Republicans and 190 Democrats who now populate the "lower chamber." Currently, there also are five vacancies.
The result could mean at least two more years of divided U.S. government if Obama wins re-election and Democrats retain control of the "upper chamber," the Senate.
FISCAL DEALMAKING AHEAD?
"The upshot is that the voters are saying to President Obama and Speaker Boehner: 'Go back to the bargaining table; finish the deal,'" said David Kendall, a senior fellow at Third Way, a centrist think tank in Washington.
Kendall was referring to the intensive negotiations Obama and Boehner held during the summer of 2011, which ultimately fell apart but were aimed at bringing around $4 trillion in deficit reductions over 10 years.
Following that breakdown, many congressional leaders said that only the 2012 elections could settle the Democratic-Republican dispute over taxes and spending that stood in the way of an Obama-Boehner handshake.
Tuesday's results might disappoint those who had hoped for clear marching orders from voters, though, if Obama wins re-election and Democrats retain their Senate majority.
On election night two years ago, the so-called Tea Party faction shook Washington's political establishment as conservative Republicans rode that small-government movement to a tidal wave victory.
Suddenly, skyrocketing federal debt, which Republicans said threatened to swamp the struggling economy and hamper job creation, dominated the national conversation.
It was in large part due to the Tea Party that Republicans wrested control of the House from then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her Democrats.
Two years later, voters displayed some fatigue with the Tea Party as some of the movement's stars faced difficult re-election bids.
Even so, Republicans were not expected to abandon the central tenets of Tea Party ideology.
"There will still be enough Republicans enamored by the Tea Party idea against raising taxes," said Youngstown State University political science professor Paul Sracic. "We're looking at a huge struggle in the lame duck and next year," he said of the post-election session of Congress and 2013 fights over tax policy.
(Editing by Fred Barbash, Marilyn W. Thompson and Jim Loney)