Obama invites GOP leaders to White House for bipartisan meeting

By Anne E. Kornblut and Perry Bacon Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, November 4, 2010; 4:14 PM

President Obama on Thursday invited Republican leaders to the White House for a bipartisan meeting to discuss the way forward after the midterm elections, even as the newly empowered GOP began to detail how it would confront him on a number of issues.

The Nov. 18 meeting will focus on economic concerns, particularly the tax cuts passed in 2001 and 2003 that are due to expire at year's end, as well as on nuclear nonproliferation, Obama told reporters at the end of a Cabinet meeting Thursday.

"People are still catching their breath" from the election, Obama said. But, he added, "The American people don't want us just standing still. They don't want us engaged in gridlock."

But GOP leaders, while saying they would work with Obama on issues on which the two sides agree, laid out proposals that would undo a number of the administration's key legislative accomplishments.

In a speech at the Heritage Foundation, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) promised that Republicans would push for votes to repeal Obama's health-care law, would try to block spending increases for most federal agencies and would support proposals by the the GOP-controlled House to cut some funding that has already been appropriated by Congress.

And in a memo to GOP members, Minority Whip Eric Cantor (Va.), No. 2 in the House Republican leadership, called for weekly votes on spending cuts and a bill to permanently ban any public funding of abortion, as well as emphasizing the GOP's pledges to block any proposed tax increases and try to repeal the health-care law.

Asked about the GOP repeal effort, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said he doubted that a presidential veto would be necessary because "I honestly don't think ... it will come to that." He added, "I just don't think [repeal legislation] is going to make its way through both houses."

Gibbs told a White House news briefing: "The message of Tuesday's election was that the American people want both political parties to work together. There'll be time for another political campaign, but we just finished one." He said candidates were not elected "to refight the battles of the last two years."

Replying to a suggestion that Republican leaders want the Obama administration to "surrender" to their positions, Gibbs warned, "You don't make progress ... in a divided government saying, 'my way or the highway.' You're going to end up with a lot more of what drove people away from having faith in their government."

Cantor, who is running unopposed for the majority leader position, also proposed that House Republicans allow only one day each month for holding votes on inconsequential issues such as renaming post offices and other federal buildings.

At the same time, party leaders acknowledged that voters had not handed the GOP a mandate for its ideas Tuesday and that Obama would serve as a check on the Republicans' power.

"By their own admission, leaders of the Republican Revolution of 1994 think their greatest mistake was overlooking the power of the veto," McConnell said. "They gave the impression they were somehow in charge when they weren't. And after President Clinton vetoed their bills, making it impossible for them to accomplish all their goals, they ended up being viewed as failures, sellouts, or both."

He said: "Democrats not only have the White House, they have the Senate, too. So we have to be realistic about what we can and cannot achieve, while at the same recognizing that realism should never be confused with capitulation."

Only hours after Obama's invitation, McConnell was hardly conciliatory in his speech. He cast the past two years as the "Europeanization of America" and attacked the "health-care spending bill."

And he warned that Republicans would carefully watch to see if Obama attempted to use Cabinet agencies to enact new policies now that Democrats do not have control of the House.

"The White House has a choice: They can change course, or they can double down on a vision of government that the American people have roundly rejected," McConnell said. "If they choose the former, they'll find a partner in Republicans. If they don't, we will have more disagreements ahead."

Obama said he hoped the meeting with congressional leaders would extend to a dinner as well, which would be unusual for the president, who usually does not spend much time socializing with other politicians. A spokesman for McConnell said the GOP leader welcomed the meeting.

"What's going to be critically important over the coming months is creating a better working relationship between this White House and the congressional leadership that's coming in, as well as the congressional leadership that carries over from the previous Congress," Obama said.

He added, "We can't afford two years of just squabbling."

Along with McConnell and Cantor, Obama invited House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.); Rep. John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), who is likely to be the next speaker; House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.); the Senate's top Democrats - Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) and Richard J. Durbin (Ill.) - and Sen. Jon Kyl (Ariz.), the No. 2 Republican.

kornbluta@washpost.com baconp@washpost.com

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