Our view: Get it together

From the Charlotte Observer

President Barack Obama on Thursday invited Republican and Democratic congressional leaders to the White House for a Nov. 18 chat about how they might work together over the next two years.

Hours later, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell reiterated that his top goal is to make Obama a one-term president and promised repeated votes in the Senate on repealing health care reform.

Maybe Obama is just trying to look more bipartisan. After all, he hasn't been too inclusive of Republicans during his first two years in office and got spanked on Tuesday. But whatever the political calculations, Republicans need to accept Obama's olive branch, not snip it off, and make him and congressional Democrats back it up with actions. The country simply can't afford two years of standing still while the rest of the world innovates, creates jobs and invests in the future.

Elections have consequences, as everyone said when Obama made his Supreme Court nominations. And disagreement between the parties is natural. Healthy, even.

But that notion has been taken to an extreme, to where there's a very real chance that voters will be subjected to two years of gridlock as problems facing the nation mount and worsen.

Republicans won a mandate on Tuesday, but it was not to blindly push their agenda. It was, primarily, a call from voters to get the economy moving and to bring some sanity to America's long-term budget woes. Washington Republicans may be hearing the screams of those extreme partisans who reject any sort of compromise with "that Socialist." Washington Democrats may be hearing the yells of those extremists on the left who want zero cooperation with "those right-wingers."

All of that is drowning out the vast majority of Americans who want the two sides to make progress through compromise. A McClatchy-Marist poll taken right before the election found that voters tilted toward Republicans, but by a huge margin (72 percent -- 22 percent) preferred compromise over gridlock.

There are several places where the two parties could stun the country and cooperate:

• The Bush tax cuts. Obama wants to keep them in place only for the middle class -- individuals making less than $200,000 a year, couples making less than $250,000; Republicans want to keep them in place for everyone, including the wealthy. Raise the threshold a bit and call it a day. (For a limited time; see next item.)

• The federal deficit. Obama has offered little; Republicans want to magically reduce it by cutting taxes and cutting spending in some undetermined way. Both parties should seriously consider bipartisan recommendations coming out next month from Erskine Bowles' deficit commission.

• Health care reform. It's Obama's signature accomplishment; Republicans want to repeal it. Americans oppose "the health care reform bill" but support many elements therein. Keep those in place and make changes that actually put a dent in health care costs.

• Nuclear weapons. Obama wants Senate ratification of an important treaty with Russia; Republicans blocked that pre-election. Really, if politicians can't agree on not obliterating the planet, what can they agree on?

That's just a start. There's room for compromise on clean energy, immigration and other issues as well.

Obama said Thursday that he wants to nurture a better relationship with congressional Republicans. He promised to "make a sincere and consistent effort to try to change how Washington operates."

We've heard that one from Obama before. Let's hope he means it this time, and that Republicans respond in kind.

BOTTOM LINE: Americans want progress, not intramural politics while we keep losing ground.