Obama Calls New Leaders to White House: Americans 'Don't Want Us Engaged in Gridlock'

Obama indicated for first time willingness to compromise on Bush-era tax cuts.

November 4, 2010, 7:40 AM

Nov. 4, 2010— -- President Obama today said he has invited Democratic and Republican leaders of the House and Senate to a meeting at the White House to find common ground and develop a new agenda going forward.

"I want us to talk substantively about how we can move the American people's agenda forward. It's not just going to be a photo op," the president said at the end of a meeting with his cabinet.

"We've got a lot of work to do. People are still catching their breaths from the election. The dust is still settling," Obama said. "The one thing I'm absolutely certain of is that the American people don't want us just standing still, and they don't want us engaged in gridlock. They want us to do the people's business, partly because they understand that the world is not standing still."

The meeting will be on Nov. 18, after the president returns from his overseas trip. It will include soon-to-be Speaker of the House John Boehner, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Majority Leader Harry Reid, and current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

The president also invited newly elected governors for a meeting on Dec. 2.

"Sometimes things are a little less ideological when you get governors together because they've got very practical problems they've got to solve," he said.

Congress will be back in session next week to deal with unfinished business and to elect the new leadership for next year. Obama today reminded lawmakers about the work that remains to be done before the end of year.

He pushed the Senate to ratify the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) before the session ends. Hinting at bipartisan compromise -- which has been absent since the treaty was forged earlier this year -- Obama reminded Republicans of the treaty's importance to national security and that, "traditionally, this has received strong bipartisan support."

Congress will also have to act on Bush-era tax cuts, which are set to expire at the end of the year.

President Obama indicated for the first time Wednesday that he is willing to compromise on those tax cuts acknowledging that without GOP support, it would be hard to pass any legislation.

Republicans want the Bush-era tax cuts extended for all Americans; Obama and some Democrats have said such cuts should mainly benefit the middle class, not the wealthy.

"How that negotiation works itself out, I think it's too early to say," the president said at a news conference Wednesday. "But, you know, this is going to be one of my top priorities. And my hope is, is that, given we all have an interest in growing the economy and encouraging job growth, that we're not going to play brinksmanship, but instead we're going to act responsibly."

New challenges await both Republicans and Democrats as lawmakers gear up to form a new Congress that will dictate the national conversation on key issues such as jobs, taxes and the economy.

After a legislative session with little or sometimes virtually no bipartisan compromise, Democrats will need to join with their Republican counterparts to pass major legislation.

And it's not just the Democrats who will need to find middle ground.

The wave election swept into power many Tea Party candidates who, on many issues, stand far apart from the Republican establishment. The jockeying for power positions also has already begun.

Rep. Michele Bachmann, the firebrand congresswoman from Minnesota who formed the Tea Party caucus, announced her intentions Wednesday to run for the GOP conference chair, the fourth top leadership position in the party.

Bachmann's Facebook announcement sets up the first real battle between the GOP establishment and Tea Party supporters. She will be competing against Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, a favorite of the Republican establishment.

Dick Armey, former House majority leader and founder of the conservative, Tea Party support group called FreedomWorks, dismissed the idea of any fractions within the GOP.

"What you see with this leadership team is quiet competence," Armey said on "Good Morning America." Boehner, set to be the new speaker of the House, has the "proven ability to work with even the most diligent people on the other side."

As minority leader, Boehner was outspoken and defiant. He famously yelled "Hell no they can't" on the House floor during a health care debate.

The soon-to-be House speaker struck a more somber tone Wednesday, however, warning that now is no time for celebration and that the winners have their work cut out ahead. He also said the Democratic agenda may have to be retooled.

"Our job is to listen to the American people and follow the will of the American people," he said. "We've got a big job ahead of us, and that's why you see us roll up our sleeves and go to work today."

Democrats clearly have reservations about which issues the two parties can compromise. Many Republicans who were swept into power by Tea Party fervor have vowed a repeal of the health care bill. Others disagree vehemently with Democrats' budget proposal, which could create a stalemate next spring when the two sides join heads to formulate a plan.

There's a "really, really new reality in Washington," Democratic strategist James Carville said on "GMA" today.

The two parties can start out by compromising on small bills such as eliminating earmarks and pork barrel spending -- a Congressional tactic both Obama and Boehner have decried -- but "it's not going to be a whole lot of common ground," he said.

The future of the health care bill is also up in the air.

Republicans, including Leader McConnell, are insisting that parts of it should be repealed. But the president, who has veto power, is unlikely to support such a move.

"On health care, that means we can -- and should -- propose and vote on straight repeal, repeatedly," McConnell will say in a speech today, according to prepared remarks. "But we can't expect the president to sign it. 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."

ABC News' Jonathan Karl and Jake Tapper contributed to this report.

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