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Will Obama Be Able to Accomplish Anything with Divided Congress?

Now that he has won re-election, pundits and Washington insiders are eager to see what President Obama will do in his second term.

And perhaps even more importantly, since Republicans still have control of the House of Representatives, how much will the opposition party cooperate to enable him to do anything.

Obstruction seems to have become the number one goal of Congressional Republicans—block anything the president tries to accomplish, then accuse the president of not accomplishing anything. When the goal, as stated by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, was to keep the president from winning a second term, the goal of obstruction was clear.

But it didn’t work. Rather than bring public condemnation to the president, the methods of House Republicans simply served to enrage the public and cause the public to blame Congress for Washington’s dysfunction. Their methods may have resonated with the right-wing echo chamber on talk radio, but they failed to take down the president. What they did do was result in public approval numbers for Congress, especially Congressional Republicans, so low that most Americans would probably hesitate to even let a member of Congress take on the responsibility of walking their dog.

Observers expect the president to try to reform the tax code and push through new initiatives in immigration and education, in addition to focusing on honing the implementation of Obamacare. In the short term, he will have to get together with Congress and come to an agreement on the so-called “fiscal cliff”—the tax increases and spending reductions that Congress and Obama enacted last year to force the two sides to come together and fix the nation’s fiscal problems. Dealing with the fiscal cliff will require Congress to show a willingness to compromise, otherwise it will appear to the public that Congressional Republicans are responsible for nightmare budget policies that will hurt many Americans.

While some may claim that Obama’s election wasn’t by a wide enough margin for him to see it as a mandate—and instead he should to Congress on bended knee, begging them to work with him—the president did make history with his vote total yesterday: Combined with the 52.87 percent of the popular vote that Obama got in 2008, this year’s total of 50.3 percent means that Obama is just the second Democratic president in more than a century to win re-election with more than 50 percent of the vote in both of his elections. (Franklin Roosevelt was the other one who did it, winning over 50 percent four times.)

“When we go through tough times, when we make big decisions as a country, it necessarily stirs passions, stirs up controversy,” the president said in his victory speech. “That won’t change after tonight, and it shouldn’t. These arguments we have are a mark of our liberty.”

But Obama did extend perhaps the smallest of olive branches to Congress.

“You elected us to focus on your jobs, not ours,” he said. “And 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. Reducing our deficit. Reforming our tax code. Fixing our immigration system. Freeing ourselves from foreign oil. We’ve got more work to do.”

Still, most political experts don’t expect Obama and Congress to accomplish a damn thing through compromise.

“You have to ask the question why it would be any different than the last two years,” Alan Cobb, vice president of Americans for Prosperity, a conservative advocacy group, asked NPR. “It’s stalemate for another four years, isn’t it?”

“Obama will have a hard time making his case where it counts, on Capitol Hill,” says Jack Pitney, a political scientist at Claremont McKenna College in California.

Pitney predicted that House Republicans will feel just as vindicated by victory as the president, since they managed to hold on to their majority, surviving campaign attacks from Democrats over Medicare and other issues.




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