Subdued Obama says suffered a voter “shellacking”

WASHINGTON, (Reuters) – A chastened U.S President  Barack Obama today pledged to seek compromise with  Republicans who won big in congressional elections and admitted  he had lost touch with voters who delivered a “shellacking” to  him and his Democrats

But on issue after issue, Obama gave little ground on his  positions as the two sides gear up for negotiations over how to  tackle the sluggish economy, the main reason the electorate  has soured on his leadership.

At a White House news conference, Obama confessed to having  suffered a long night yesterday as Republicans seized control  of the House of Representatives and made gains in the Senate,  handing him the biggest defeat of his career and threatening to  block his agenda for the second half of his term.

“I feel bad,” the subdued president said when asked to  reflect on the drubbing his party took at the polls.

While stressing his commitment to seek common ground on  issues like tax cuts and energy policy with Republican  opponents he has battled for two years, Obama made clear there  were some lines he would not cross on his main policy items.

“I’m not suggesting this will be easy,” Obama said. “I  won’t pretend that we’ll be able to bridge every difference or  solve every disagreement.”

Gone was the campaign rhetoric in which Obama skewered  Republicans for wanting to take the country back to economic  policies he believes have been discredited. Looking tired,  Obama spoke in a quiet monotone, with an occasional smile.

Asked if he had lost touch with Americans, Obama said that  “in the rush of activity sometimes we lose track of the ways  that we connected with folks that got us here in the first  place.”

President Barack Obama gestures during a news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2010. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivias)

With his cerebral style and soaring oratory , Obama  inspired voters’ trust during the presidential campaign in  2008. But, in office, his “no-drama Obama” demeanor has  sometimes come across as detached from people’s economic pain.

Obama said a readjustment in thinking in response to  political setbacks is something every president must face.  “Now I’m not recommending to every future president that they  take a shellacking like I did last night,” he said wryly. “I’m  sure there are easier ways to learn these lessons.”

Republicans picked up at least 60 House seats in the  biggest shift in power since Democrats gained 75 House seats in  1948. The election outcome put pressure on Obama to make a  mid-course correction as he seeks to reduce the 9.6 percent  jobless rate and prepares to seek re-election in 2012.

Obama largely stuck to positions that he held before the  elections. He said it is a top priority for Congress to extend  expiring Bush-era tax cuts only for those making $250,000 or  less. Republicans also want the tax cuts kept in place for  wealthier Americans making above that amount as well.
Obama said he will sit down with congressional leaders in  coming weeks to see how to move forward on extending tax cuts.

He said he did not believe the U.S. election result was a  repudiation of his sweeping healthcare overhaul. But he  signaled he was willing to work with Republicans on “tweaks.”  Republicans have vowed to repeal the healthcare law, something  considered unlikely because of Obama’s veto power.

“If the Republicans have ideas for how to improve our  healthcare system, if they want to suggest modifications that  would deliver faster, more effective reform … I am happy to  consider some of those ideas,” Obama said.

Obama, whose former Illinois Senate seat went to a  Republican, said he has made progress on the economy but  believed “people are frustrated” by weak economic conditions.

“Clearly too many Americans haven’t felt that progress yet,  and they told us that yesterday. And, as president, I take  responsibility for that,” he said.
Obama said Americans are worried by spending and deficits,  but the country should not cut funding for education or  research while trying to bring the deficit down.

“In these budget discussions, the key is to be able to  distinguish between stuff that isn’t adding to our growth,  isn’t an investment in our future, and those things that are  absolutely necessary for us to be able to increase job growth  in the future as well, he said.

Obama acknowledged the need for what one questioner called  a “reset” in his relations with U.S. business. Some corporate  executives have accused his policies of being anti-business.

And Obama conceded that his chances of getting Congress to  pass comprehensive climate change legislation, strongly opposed  by Republicans, were “doubtful” for the rest of his term.

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