Congress should take up work on comprehensive immigration reform once the U.S. borders are secure, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Wednesday.

McCain, a longtime proponent of comprehensive reform who had tacked right in his race for reelection last year, said that an immigration deal could be an area of compromise between Republicans and Democrats.

"Once we get the border secured — and we can get the border secured — I would look forward to working on comprehensive immigration reform," the 2008 Republican presidential nominee said on NBC's "Today" show.

The Arizona senator had in the past favored legislation that would give illegal immigrants a path to citizenship. But McCain tacked to his right after facing a primary challenge from former Rep. J.D. Hayworth (R).

McCain started to speak out against "amnesty" — the term used by opponents of reform providing a pathway to citizenship — and, in a campaign ad this past year, he complained that it's time to "build the danged fence."

During the lame-duck session of Congress, McCain also voted against the DREAM Act, an immigration bill he had once championed.

The Republican said he hoped for other areas of compromise, specifically on eliminating wasteful spending and creating a limited line-item veto, for which McCain said he'd introduce legislation with Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio).

"I think we can find areas to work together on cutting spending, getting our economy going again, job creation," McCain said of the new Congress. "But I also think there are clearly philosophical differences with the way we've been doing business the last couple years and the way we should be doing business, in the opinion of the American people."