Top Republican says Obama "off to a good start"

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A top Republican said on Friday that Democratic U.S. President-elect Barack Obama is “off to a good start” and indicated he was pleased to see President George W. Bush get ready to leave.

U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) addresses campaign supporters during his election night party in Louisville, Kentucky, November 4, 2008.REUTERS/John Sommers II

“Our members, in one way, are kind of relieved by the departure of an administration that became unpopular and made it very difficult for us to compete,” Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell told reporters on Capitol Hill.

In part because of Bush’s unpopularity, Obama won the White House and Democrats expanded their majorities in the U.S. Congress in the November 4 elections.

Obama, who inherits a global financial crisis and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, has vowed to work with Republicans to try to overcome the bitter partisan divisions that have marked Washington-style politics, including the current standoff over proposals to bail out the failing auto industry.

McConnell expressed appreciation that Obama’s pick for White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, visited Capitol Hill this week to talk to Republicans ahead of the new Congress convening on January 6, two weeks before Obama is sworn in as president.

“I think the new administration is off to a good start,” the Kentucky senator said.

“They’re saying, in my view, all the right things ... that they want to govern in the middle and tackle big things.”

McConnell added a cautionary note: “It would not be a good idea for the new administration ... to go down a laundry list of left-wing proposals and try to jam them through.”

“I don’t anticipate they’re going to do that. I’m hoping for the best,” McConnell said.

The senator said he would like to see Obama take on such issues as the financially troubled Social Security retirement program and Medicare health program for the elderly.

McConnell denounced a top priority of labor that has been embraced by Democrats and opposed by business -- legislation to make it easier for unions to organize at workplaces.

The measure, which was stopped by Republicans in the past, would allow workers to organize if a majority of them simply sign a union card.

This would avoid secret-ballot elections that critics charge are often manipulated by companies. But supporters of the secret ballot call it a basic tenet of democracy.

“The notion that in 2008, we would get rid of the secret ballot is utter nonsense. It’s unacceptable,” McConnell said. “It’s overwhelmingly unpopular.”

While Democrats will have increased control of the new Congress, McConnell vowed to put up a fight if needed and predicted that on some issues a number of Democrats may side with him.

“I wouldn’t assume ... a kind of lock-step unity on the majority side,” McConnell said.

Editing by Mohammad Zargham