* Obama plays down notion vote was rejection of his agenda
* Says he plans “mid-course correction”
* Calls Boehner, McConnell “smart” and “capable”
By Caren Bohan
WASHINGTON, Nov 7 (Reuters) - Big election losses suffered by Democrats were “first and foremost” a reflection of the economy’s weakness rather than a wholesale rejection of his policies, President Barack Obama said on Sunday .
“The party in power was held responsible for an economy that is still underperforming and where a lot of folks are still hurting,” Obama told the CBS program “60 Minutes” in an interview.
In what he has described as a “shellacking,” Republicans racked up huge victories in last week’s congressional elections, capturing the House of Representatives and increasing their numbers in the Senate.
Pressed on Republican assertions that the vote was a rejection of his agenda, Obama replied: “I think first and foremost, it was a referendum on the economy.”
Obama, who flew on Friday to India for the start of a 10-day trip, said at a forum with students in Mumbai he would undertake a “mid-course correction” in his presidency.
Obama and his aides have been discussing strategy and staff changes as he looks toward his own re-election battle in 2012. But the White House has given little indication of how far-reaching the changes will be.
Discussing his decision to move ahead with a major overhaul of the healthcare system at a time when voters saw the economy as the top concern, Obama acknowledged it “probably wasn’t great politics” but said he felt it was the right thing to do.
“It proved as costly politically as we expected -- probably actually a little more costly than we expected, politically.”
Obama also said some of the emergency economic steps the administration took -- such as the $814 billion stimulus and the financial bailout -- were viewed by voters as government overreach. He said that was not his aim.
“I think the Republicans were able to paint my governing philosophy as a classic, traditional, big government liberal. And that’s not something the American people want,” he said.
But Obama kept up the conciliatory tone toward Republicans he adopted at a news conference in the aftermath of Tuesday’s election.
He has invited Republican and Democratic leaders to meet with him on Nov. 18 to iron out their differences over Bush-era tax cuts, which are scheduled to expire at the end of this year unless Congress and the president decide to renew them.
Obama wants to extend the tax cuts only for American families making less than $250,000 a year, while Republicans want to continue them across the board.
In recent days, Obama has signaled he is open to discussing a temporary renewal of the tax cuts for the wealthy.
Obama said John Boehner, the presumed next Speaker of the House of Representatives, and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell were “smart” and “capable.”
He said they had shown “political skill” in organizing a unified Republican opposition to his policies but added, “My assumption is that we’re going to be able to work together.” (Writing by Caren Bohan; Editing by Todd Eastham)