Congress can't wait until January to deal with the so-called fiscal cliff of expiring Bush-era tax cuts and automatic spending reductions to defense and domestic programs. If unresolved, economists warn that the double financial hit could plunge the nation into another recession.
A nervous Wall Street reacted Wednesday, with the Dow dropping more than 250 points.
Obama telephoned House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, Reid, McConnell and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to discuss the legislative agenda for the rest of the year. The White House said the president reiterated his commitment to a bipartisan consensus.
Elected to the Senate on Tuesday were moderate to conservative Democrats such as Indiana Rep. Joe Donnelly, Virginia's Tim Kaine and Heitkamp who may see bipartisanship as vital to their political survival in swing and Republican-leaning states. Massachusetts and Wisconsin tapped two liberal Democrats -- Warren and Baldwin.
"I think we have some fresh faces coming in from both spectrums," Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said in an interview. "The Democratic Party is the face of America and basically they heard the same thing I heard. People came up to me a thousand times a day, 'Will you please work together, will you please get something done for the sake of my family, my children, this great country of ours.'"
But divisions among Democrats -- as well as the ones within the GOP -- could prove problematic for House and Senate leaders. Reid will be looking to protect his majority as Democrats again face some disagreeable math in 2014, when they will be defending 20 Senate seats to the GOP's 13.
McConnell not only will have to keep his surly factions united, but he faces his own re-election bid in two years.
In the House, 10 members of the huge tea party-backed freshman class of 2010 lost, 83 of whom sought re-election. Freshman tea party champion Rep. Allen West of Florida was behind Democratic challenger Patrick Murphy by nearly 2,500 votes but refusing to concede. It was the most expensive House race in the country, with the two rivals and their allies spending a combined $23.8 million, about two-thirds of it for West.
"The tea party is a strong movement," said Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, among the re-elected 2010 freshmen.
Around 30 or 40 House Republicans -- not all of whom were freshmen in 2010 -- have proven difficult for GOP leaders to corral on some issues, including on compromises eventually reached with Obama and Democrats over averting government shutdowns and defaults.
Democrats won 192 seats and led in eight races, giving them up to 200 seats next Congress. They controlled 193 this year, including three vacancies.
It remained unclear Wednesday whether Pelosi will seek to lead the party in the next Congress. In September, the former House speaker told reporters that it would be up to her fellow Democrats and her family "after all this time" to decide her fate.
One major change: For the first time in the House's history, more than half of its Democratic members next year will not be white men, according to figures compiled by The Associated Press. So far about 99 of the 192 declared House Democratic winners Tuesday are women, black, Hispanic or Asian.