President faces reality of divided Congress

November 08, 2012 - 6:39:51 am

CHICAGO: President Barack Obama returned to Washington emboldened by his re-election but faced the daunting task of breaking down partisan gridlock in a bitterly divided Congress.

Obama told Americans “the best is yet to come” after defying dark economic omens to handily defeat Mitt Romney, but his in-tray is already overflowing with unfulfilled first term wishes thwarted by blanket Republican opposition.

Whether on immigration reform, health care or a grand plan to rein in the ballooning budget deficit, the president struggled for four years to find compromise in Congress and some questioned if he had the political chops.

Democrats kept the Senate but fell short of the 60-vote super majority needed to sidestep Republican blocking tactics. 

The big question at the start of Obama’s second term is this: Will the Republicans blink on the looming “fiscal cliff” and strike a deal that will avert a catastrophic economic crunch forced by mandatory budget cuts. The “fiscal cliff” — a combination of dramatic spending cuts and tax increases — is set to take effect January 1 if US lawmakers cannot cut a deal on the deficit by the end of the year.

“In the weeks ahead, I also look forward to sitting down with Governor Romney to talk about where we can work together to move this country forward,” the president told the country in his rousing acceptance speech.

But Obama knows it is not his vanquished foe that he must now deal with but rather the Republican leadership in Congress, which may dig its heels in after failing in its stated goal: to make him a one-term president.

Obama won despite the highest unemployment rate of any president since Franklin Roosevelt in 1936 and became only the second Democrat since then to win a second term. With only Florida among the battleground states still to be declared, Obama had 303 electoral votes — well over the 270 needed to win the White House.

Despite his resounding Electoral College victory, diehard Republicans were already challenging his mandate, pointing to his slim lead in the national popular vote where he led Romney by 50 percent to 49 percent.

“I think the real story here is that Obama won, but he’s got no mandate,” conservative commentator Charles Krauthammer said on Fox News. “The Republicans are in control of the House, probably a little bit stronger. They are not going to budge. There’s no way after holding out on Obama for two years they’re going to cave in, and Obama doesn’t have anywhere really to go.”

Republican House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner drew a line in the sand even before Obama’s win was sealed. “The American people want solutions — and tonight they’ve responded by renewing our House Republican majority,” Boehner said. “With this vote, the American people have also made clear that there is no mandate for raising tax rates.”

Obama’s victory means he will get the chance to embed his healthcare and Wall Street reforms deep into the fabric of American life. Romney had pledged one of his first acts would be to repeal Obamacare. 

The president may also get the chance to reshape the Supreme Court in his liberal image for a generation, a move that would shape policy on issues like abortion and same sex rights.

The president will also look abroad as he builds his legacy, and will face an immediate challenge early in 2013 over whether to use military force to thwart Iran’s nuclear programme. Obama ran for re-election on a platform of offering a “fair shot” to the middle class, of fulfilling his pledge to end the war in Iraq, killing Osama bin Laden, and starting to build a clean energy economy. AFP