- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A pensive and introspective President Obama called the midterm elections a “shellacking” for the Democrats and took responsibility for his party’s disastrous showing, telling reporters Wednesday that in the rush to get things done, Democrats forgot to make good on their promise to change the way Washington works.

“We were in such a hurry to get things done that we didn’t change how things get done. And I think that frustrated people,” the subdued president said in an often frank election post-mortem session in the East Room of the White House.

Mr. Obama said he proved he could communicate with voters during the 2008 campaign, spent in Iowa living rooms and New Hampshire diners, but acknowledged he’s become trapped sometimes by Washington as president.

The president said that grappling with the aftermath of voters’ rejection “is something I think every president needs to go through.” Still, he did not retreat from key parts of his first-term agenda, defending the health care law even though it required the kind of deal-making he said he had hoped to change in Washington.

Mr. Obama said the special deals that Democrats used to push the bill through the Senate represent “something I regret,” saying that he wishes the process had been “more healthy.” But he also argued that the law was overwhelmingly beneficial to seniors, families and other groups and at times seemed almost to challenge Republicans to try to roll back the plan’s most popular elements.

At the same time, he said he would be “happy to consider” Republican proposals to tweak and improve the law, mentioning in particular unpopular provisions that small-business owners say have imposed an undue paperwork burden on them.

Mr. Obama admitted at least temporary defeat on one of his original legislative priorities, acknowledging that it’s now politically impossible to curb greenhouse gas emissions through his favored “cap-and-trade” system. He said the new balance of power on Capitol Hill, with Republicans in control of the House and with near-parity in the Senate, doesn’t mean the two parties should wait before moving forward on a smaller energy bill they both can support, however.

Mr. Obama also cited education and aid for small businesses as potential areas of common ground, but aside from his pending proposal to allow smaller firms to immediately expense investments in equipment, he offered few specifics.

Mr. Obama wouldn’t concede that the huge Republican gains represented a direct repudiation of his policies. Instead, he blamed the results on the fact that the recovery is progressing too slowly and the perception among many voters that some of his early “emergency” measures taken to right the economy, such as the stimulus bill and aid to the struggling auto industry, may have been interpreted by voters as a permanent expansion of government as opposed to a one-off response to the financial crisis.

Comparing himself with popular predecessors Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton — both of whom suffered midterm losses and sagging approval ratings after their first two years yet went on to win re-election — Mr. Obama ticked off a list of regrets, including having signed spending bills loaded up with pork-barrel spending.

“In the rush to get things done, I had to sign a bunch of bills that had earmarks in them, which was contrary to what I talked about,” he said.

That comment signals a possible fight over the next several months with Congress, where senior Republicans and Democrats in both chambers vigorously have defended their right to send money back to their home districts.