If Obama wants another term, he needs to reach out to GOP lawmakers

In light of last the midterm election’s results, the big question is whether President Obama will be Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonMueller’s probe doesn't end with a bang, but with a whimper Mark Mellman: History’s judgment Congress should massively ramp up funding for the NIH MORE or Jimmy Carter. In other words, will he learn from his mistakes and be reelected in 2012 or will he be a one-term president? We were given some indication of where he is headed from last week’s post-election press conference, but the real outline of the next two years won’t be clear until the new Congress takes office in January.

Bill Clinton is the classic model to follow. After seeing Democrats lose the House and Senate in 1994, he moved to the center and compromised with the Republicans on key issues such as welfare reform and raising the minimum wage, and he was reelected in 1996.

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The first step for President Obama to reach out to Republicans would be to agree to a one- or two-year extension of all Bush-era tax cuts including personal income tax rates, 15 percent rate for dividends and 15 percent for capital gains. He could couple this with a request that everyone withhold judgment on other matters until his deficit reduction panel makes its recommendations on Dec. 1, and he could urge both parties to then work together to implement as many of these recommendations as possible.

The president should also heed the message of the voters and place heavy emphasis on doing everything possible to create jobs and lessen the unemployment rate.  Other divisive issues such as immigration reform and energy policy should be put on the back burner until he and the Congress take decisive steps on the economy.

The size of Republican gains in the House sends a very clear message.  The public wants action and wants it sooner rather than later. However, House Republicans could risk losing the next election if they oppose everything suggested by the president and are seen by the public as being responsible for two years of gridlock.

Democrats can be somewhat heartened by retaining control of the Senate. However, it will be almost impossible for Democrats to put together 60 votes on most issues, and bipartisanship is required if anything is to pass. Republicans in the Senate will make a serious mistake if they are seen as creating gridlock by refusing to work with the Democrats across the board.

When all is said and done, the public will first look to the president for working toward bipartisan solutions to the basic economic problems facing the country. If the president can demonstrate that he is moving heaven and earth to bring about bipartisan solutions and if we still have gridlock, the Republicans could lose it all in 2012. If there is any message from the last two elections, it is that the public is very fickle.

Democrats in the House have some very serious internal matters to resolve. And this is true no matter how the leadership elections come out. Because many moderates and conservatives were defeated, the caucus will, on its face, be more liberal. However, if the Democratic Caucus always takes liberal positions and refuses to move to the center, Democrats risk being in the wilderness for years.  Some how the liberal majority in the House Democratic Caucus will have to be willing to accept a number of half loaves or all they will get is crumbs for years to come.

Elections in this country have consequences. However, we do have another one in two years. The future of the Obama presidency is yet to be determined, and the Republicans’ hold on the House of Representatives is still a tenuous one, no matter what the amount of gains in 2010. Let’s hope we have a year of real legislating before the next election cycle starts in earnest. 

Frost served as a Democratic member of Congress from Texas from 1979 to 2005.  He is currently a shareholder in the Washington office of the Polsinelli, Shughart law firm.