WASHINGTON—President Obama’s elation at securing a second term may be short-lived as he heads back to face a divided Congress and the looming fiscal cliff, but he and congressional leaders have vowed to work harder at reaching a consensus.
The fiscal cliff is the most challenging issue right now, according to John Hudak, political analyst and governance fellow with the Brookings Institution. Rhetoric from all players, including the president, about resolving the issue was encouraging, but actions would speak louder.
“It shouldn’t be hard, although a lot of things should not be hard and the two branches of government make it so,” Hudak said in a phone interview.
The “fiscal cliff” is the term coined to describe Jan. 1, when sequestration legislation is enacted and the Bush tax cuts expire.
Sequestration will see automatic cuts occur in defense and across other government agencies amounting to $500 billion—a move conceived as so devastating that it would drive a gridlocked Congress to agreement. That did not happen, however, and the automatic cuts are now weighing heavily on the nation’s capitol.
In his victory speech Tuesday night, the president endeavored to unite a country deeply divided along partisan lines, acknowledging passionate but widely divergent views within the community.
“These arguments we have are a mark of our liberty, and we can never forget that as we speak, people in distant nations are risking their lives right now just for a chance to argue about the issues that matter, the chance to cast their ballots like we did today,” Obama said.
Obama also said that the hard-fought campaign had made him “more determined and more inspired” to resolve the nation’s problems, and that includes working with Congress.
“In the coming weeks and months, I am looking forward to reaching out and working with leaders of both parties to meet the challenges we can only solve together,” said the president.
In keeping with tradition, the president called congressional leaders Wednesday, reiterating his “commitment to finding bipartisan solutions,” according to a statement from the White House.
The balance of power remains the same in Congress following the elections, with Republicans holding the majority in the House and Democrats in the Senate.
Congress’s approval ratings reached the lowest point in 38 years in August, with only 1 out of 10 Americans giving a positive job-approval rating, according to Gallup. It appears that some congressional members may have heard from their communities on the need to work together.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said that it is time to put politics aside.
“We have big challenges facing us in the months ahead. Democrats and Republicans must come together, and show that we are up to the challenge,” he said in an official statement Wednesday.
Responding to President Obama’s call, Speaker of the House John Boehner told reporters that Republicans were “ready to work with” the president.
“If there is a mandate in yesterday’s results, it is a mandate for us to find a way to work together on solutions to the challenges we face together as a nation,” said Boehner, speaking on the need to avert the fiscal cliff, grow the economy, create jobs, and solve the debt.
Boehner also said that the House would look for ways to raise revenues, but maintained the Republican pledge not to raise taxes.
“With this vote, the American people have also made clear that there is no mandate for raising tax rates,” Boehner said.
There is important legislation awaiting decision in Congress, particularly a transportation bill, a farm bill, and the re-authorization of a number of federal agencies, according to Hudak, but the fiscal cliff is the most urgent.
Hudak believes that congress members will be keen to resolve the fiscal cliff issue, but warns that it could easily unravel. He suggests starting small and working up to the more contentious issues, like tax increases and nondiscretionary spending.
“They need to map out that timeline, and in that discussion they can’t discuss the particulars and the details because if they get into that, it is going to blow up,” he said.
U.S. stocks fell sharply Wednesday over concerns that Congress would return to its gridlock and the fiscal situation would remain unresolved. Stocks bounced back Thursday, however, on news of a rise in U.S. exports, Reuters reported.
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