Find common ground

Let’s begin with a positive spin: “Let me be clear: There will be no shutdowns and no default on the national debt,” Sen. Mitch McConnell declared after a resounding GOP victory in last week’s midterm election.

That’s a relief. Mr. McConnell’s party won control of Congress last week, likely catapulting the Kentucky Republican into leadership of the Senate majority. Clearly, Sen. McConnell realizes that stunts like shutdowns send precisely the wrong message to Americans who expect their government to work.

Going further, in a joint op-ed with Republican House Speaker John Boehner, the two GOP leaders took a conciliatory approach toward the White House, pledging to work with President Obama in a bipartisan manner on issues of common interest. Commendably, they did not claim that the election gave Republicans a broad political mandate.

But don’t make any bets. It’s hard to see how the gridlock that plagues Washington can be dissolved when Republicans won their victory by running a relentlessly negative, Obama-bashing campaign. And it’s a strange kind of bipartisanship that promises to work with the president while at the same time, vowing to repeal “Obamacare.” Surely, these Capitol Hill veterans understand that legislative bipartisanship involves horse-trading, not beating a dead horse.

As for Mr. Obama, he, too, talked a good game at his post-election news conference. The president said he welcomed the opportunity to work with a new Republican majority in both houses of Congress and expressed hope of finding common ground with GOP lawmakers. Yet asked repeatedly to say what he planned to change about his own approach to the job, to acknowledge that he shares a measure of responsibility for Washington’s failures, Mr. Obama had nothing to say.

Realistically, the chances of developing a practical governing dynamic, one that can actually get things done for the American people, seem remote.

If the two sides in Washington really want to get past gridlock, they might start with those issues where they already share some common ground. That includes a corporate-tax overhaul, major trade deals with the Pacific Rim countries and with Europe, and financing the government.

As we noted, Mr. McConnell has pledged to avoid a government shutdown, a promising step on government financing. Mr. Obama, for his part, has been fighting elements within his own party to advance trade deals that the Republican Party and the business community favor. Surely, the two sides can work on these efforts together, as well as on fixing a corporate tax structure that both parties say is a mess.

As for immigration, the most divisive issue, Mr. Obama has given Republicans plenty of chances to weigh in with their own ideas, but they have refused to pass a bill that wins the support of both the House and Senate. It’s time for the president to take executive action to modify the status of millions of immigrants in this country, a festering problem that gets no better as time passes.

As a measure of compromise, he could wait awhile — three months, say — to make his action effective, thus giving the next, Republican-led Congress a chance to pass bipartisan legislation that supersedes his executive order. Legislation is far superior to unilateral action by the executive, but doing nothing about the broken immigration system is a recipe for national failure.