POLITICS: White House

Post-election forecast is for more gridlock

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Photo - President Barack Obama at his election night party at McCormick Place in Chicago. (AP Photo)
President Barack Obama at his election night party at McCormick Place in Chicago. (AP Photo)
Politics,White House,Susan Ferrechio,Brian Hughes,Campaign 2012,Politics Digest

The day after voters finally ended a long, bruising election, Washington looked much the same as it did before the election.

If voters were fed up with the most unpopular Congress in polling history, they didn't show it Tuesday. Republicans were left in charge of the House. Democrats added two seats to their majority in the Senate. And President Obama was allowed to remain in the White House.

Also unchanged is the long list of serious challenges lawmakers left behind to hit the campaign trail, issues that could throw the country into another economic tailspin if the polarized partisans can't find a compromise.

Taxes could rise for all working Americans, not just the rich. And government programs on which people and whole local economies depend could suffer $1 trillion in automatic budget cuts. If a budget isn't produced by March, the federal government would shut down -- again.

The prospects for bipartisan peace did not appear bright Wednesday, the day after voters opted for the status quo.

Obama's aides and allies say the president feels his comfortable victory over Republican Mitt Romney gave him the additional political capital he needs to enact tax hikes on the wealthy, immigration reform and other initiatives delayed from his first term at least in part because of Republican resistance on Capitol Hill.

"There was a message sent to us by the American people, and that is that people making all this money have to contribute a little bit more," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. "The vast majority of people support that, including rich people."

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, suggested Wednesday that he was open to working toward a budget deal, including tax reform that could raise some tax rates. But Republicans would want substantial cuts and reform of entitlement programs, he said.

"If there is a mandate in [Tuesday'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," Boehner said. "For purposes of forging a bipartisan agreement that begins to solve the problem, we're willing to accept new revenue, under the right conditions."

Republicans and analysts noted that even though voters returned Obama to the White House, they are far less supportive of him and his policies than they were four years ago. At the same time, voter expectations for the president are far lower than they were in 2008, when he rode into the White House on a promise of hope and change.

Voters no longer expect Obama to heal the nation's partisan divides, but they do want a commander in chief who can get things done, including a deal that would avoid massive tax increases and spending cuts, polls show.

"It seems like Obama has a mandate of moderation," said Keir Murray, a Democratic strategist. "He'll need to pursue policies that are broadly popular, like a form of the grand bargain. He's going to be pretty hamstrung if he tries to do anything too extreme."

Among the issues Congress and the White House face:

» Budget cuts: Known as sequestration, $1 trillion would be cut automatically from the budget starting in January, half of it from the Pentagon, unless a deficit reduction agreement is reached. Democrats want to raise taxes on those making more than $250,000 a year to help pay for it, but Republicans rejected that.

» Health care: Republican chances of repealing the president's health care reforms died when the president was re-elected. The GOP will look for ways to push reforms that could bring down the costs of premiums.

» Debt limit: Republicans say entitlement reforms must be part of any deal, including changes to Medicare and Social Security, but Democrats have so far balked at proposed changes to the popular programs.

» Immigration: The president promised reform in his first term, but failed to deliver. Heavily supported by Hispanics, Obama insists he'll try again. Republicans say they're open to reforms, but not changes that would provide citizenship to current illegal immigrants.

bhughes@washingtonexaminer.com

sferrechio@washingtonexaminer.com

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