Obama Says Midterm ‘Shellacking’ to Spur Cooperation

U.S. President Barack Obama
U.S. President Barack Obama. Photographer: Joshua Roberts/Bloomberg

President Barack Obama said he takes the blame for the “shellacking” Democrats suffered in the midterm congressional elections, as Republicans vowed to use their new strength to shrink the government and cut taxes.

Obama pledged to find consensus with Republicans on steps to help the U.S. economy grow and help provide businesses with the “certainty” they need to expand and hire.

“The voters sent us a message, which is they want us to focus on the economy and jobs,” Obama said this morning after meeting with his Cabinet at the White House. He said he told his department heads, “We have to take that message to heart and make a sincere and consistent effort to try to change how Washington operates.”

Obama said he has invited Republican and Democratic congressional leader to the White House on Nov. 18 to talk “substantively about how we move the Americans people’s agenda forward.” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said the administration also is discussing holding a meeting with company executives, though no plans have been set.

Republicans, who seized control of the House and narrowed the Senate’s Democratic majority in the Nov. 2 election, said Americans showed they want the government to change course and find bipartisan solutions to growing government debt and persistent high unemployment.

‘Some Denial’

“There seems to be some denial on the part of the president and other Democratic leaders of the message that was sent by the American people,” House Republican leader John Boehner, in line to become speaker in January, said in an ABC News interview, according to a transcript. “The American people have clearly repudiated the policies they’ve put forward.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said today that Republicans in Congress will seek votes “repeatedly” to repeal the Democrats’ health-care overhaul.

“We can’t expect the president to sign it,” he said today at the Heritage Foundation. “So we’ll also have to work, in the House, on denying funds for implementation, and, in the Senate, on votes against its most egregious provisions.”

The Republican House majority will be able to vote on a health-care repeal, while McConnell, as minority leader, can’t force Senate votes. Boehner of Ohio asked colleagues in a letter today to vote for him to become speaker.

One-Term President

McConnell of Kentucky also defended his earlier statement that his top political priority was to deny Obama a second term in office. He said the only way to accomplish Republicans’ policy goals “is to put someone in the White House who won’t veto any of these things.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s spokesman Jim Manley said in an e-mailed statement that a repeal of the health-care law would “give power back to big health-insurance companies” and let them return to practices such as denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions.

McConnell said Republicans will “vote to freeze and cut discretionary spending,” and “push to bring up and vote for House-passed spending rescission bills.”

The Senate leader described a narrow range of territory where Republicans and Obama may find common ground. “If he wants to address spending, debt and private-sector job creation he will find a willing partner,” he said.

‘Support Our Initiatives’

McConnell also voiced optimism that because 23 Senate Democrats must seek re-election in 2012, many may join Republicans “to support our initiatives.”

The Republican Party’s net gain of at least 60 House seats is its biggest since the 1938 election cycle, when Democrats lost 72 seats. Republicans, who lost the majority of both congressional chambers in the 2006 midterm elections, will assume control of the House in January.

Needing a 10-seat gain to win the Senate, Republicans picked up at least six seats.

At a news conference yesterday, Obama said voters are “deeply frustrated” about high unemployment, slow growth and are concerned about government “overreach” into their lives.

He also took responsibility for changing the administration’s approach to the business community. Companies from Procter & Gamble Co., the world’s largest consumer-products producer, to Caterpillar Inc., the largest maker of construction and mining equipment, have publicly criticized the administration.

‘Right Balance’

During the election campaign, Obama repeatedly said Democrats would defend middle-income taxpayers against corporate interests like “Wall Street banks” or the “oil industry.”

The administration must find the “right balance in making sure that businesses have rules of the road and are treating customers fairly,” Obama said yesterday, “but also making absolutely clear that the only way America succeeds is if businesses are succeeding.”

The president said he plans greater outreach to the business community to get companies to spend some of the almost $1 trillion in cash that Moody’s Investors Service says they are holding.

Obama reinforced his message to business today.

“We’ve got to provide businesses with certainty about what their tax landscapes going to look like; we’ve got to provide families with certainty that is critical to maintain our recovery,” he said.

Lame-Duck Session

Democrats will still control both chambers when House members and senators return to Washington this month for a lame-duck session; Obama wants the lawmakers to extend tax cuts for most Americans and unemployment benefits. Obama favors extending Bush-era income tax cuts for families earning up to $250,000, while letting them expire at year-end for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans.

Even so, Gibbs said today Obama is “open” to extending tax cuts for upper-income individuals to win extensions for middle-income families.

Republicans call for extending all the tax rates enacted by Congress in 2001 and 2003. Boehner reiterated that position yesterday, saying that extending all the current tax rates “is the right policy for our economy at this time.”

Obama said his meeting with Boehner, McConnell and Democratic congressional leaders would focus on moving ahead, and he is “absolutely” willing to negotiate on tax cuts.

The current House speaker, Democrat Nancy Pelosi of California, said in an interview with ABC News broadcast yesterday that she had “no regrets” about pushing the president’s agenda through Congress.

Target of Attacks

Pelosi, the first female speaker, said she is considering whether she will seek to continue as her party’s top House leader as Democrats become the minority party. Pelosi was a top target of Republican attacks during the midterm campaign, and some Democratic House members say a new leader is needed.

“I’ll have a conversation with my caucus. I’ll have a conversation with my family, and pray over it, and decide how to go forward,” Pelosi said. “But today isn’t that day.”

Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert, the last Republican to hold the position, gave up his leadership post after his party lost the chamber in the 2006 vote. Hastert, of Illinois, resigned his seat in November 2007.

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