Analysis: Obama vows more compromise but says policies sound
WASHINGTON — President Obama took his “shellacking” — his word — with a helping of humility and a vow to work harder at compromising with Republicans.
But the day after Democrats lost control of the House and sustained deep losses from state legislatures on up, the president made it clear he still believed his policies were the right ones and that it was the process of how he passed them that had riled Americans as much as anything.
Newly empowered Republicans disagree, especially on health care reforms that were passed last year. This is an argument that won’t go away between now and the next election in two years.
The day after his party swept to power with a gain of at least 60 seats in the House, presumptive House Speaker John Boehner said he believed “Obamacare” will “kill jobs in America, ruin the best health care system in the world and bankrupt this country.” He said Republicans would do everything possible to repeal it and institute their own reforms.
Obama, in a nationally broadcast news conference, was having none of it.
“I think we would be misreading the election if we thought the American people want to see us, for the next two years, re-litigate arguments that we have had for the last two years,” he said.
The president blamed opposition to health care largely on the messy legislative process that created it, and the fact that most Americans were only now becoming familiar with its most appealing provisions, from opening wider access to coverage to giving small-businesses tax credits to pay for it. He said he had gotten so wrapped up in trying to save the economy from a second Great Depression that he had to abandon promises to reform the way business was done in Washington.
“We were in such a hurry to get things done,” the president said, “that we did not change how things got done. And I think that frustrated people.”
Republicans say it’s the policy, not the pace or the process, that was rejected Tuesday. They say they are willing to work with Obama if he is willing to walk their way.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, whose caucus will grow by at least six senators next year, said the election “was the first step in the direction of changing what we have been doing in Washington.”
McConnell said there are two opportunities for that change to continue.
“Our friends on the other side can change now,” he said, “or further change could obviously happen in 2012.”
Which happens to be the next election year for Obama, all 435 House members, and one-third of the Senate.
But before then, are their obvious and consequential areas where the two sides could agree to get things done that would benefit the American people?
Yes, once you get beyond the fundamental disagreements over health care.
Banning earmarks is one. Obama endorsed incoming House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s call for a ban. While accounting for only a fraction of the deficit, banning the practice where members pass out pork for favored recipients could make Americans think that Congress was getting serious about cutting spending and reforming the way it does business.
Obama signaled a possible compromise on extending tax cuts set to expire at the end of the year. Republicans want them extended for everyone; Obama has wanted them limited to people earning less than $250,000. He did not say where he would budge, but did tell reporters that he was willing to negotiate.
Obama also said he would push provisions that would allow businesses to accelerate tax write-offs for creating jobs. That could get widespread GOP support.
A pensive, reflective Obama joked that this day-after news conference was far different from the one that helped usher him into office two years ago. He acknowledged he needed to reset his relationship with the business community, which Democrats battered during the fall campaign.
But he also noted that “great communicators” Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton had similar challenges after taking tough electoral losses early in their presidencies. Both, he said, recovered quite well.