A revitalized President Barack Obama is already clashing with a still-solid GOP House majority in a lame-duck session that looks to be configured for the same gridlock that has tied up Washington, D.C., for the past two years.
Foremost among the challenges facing the White House and Congress is steering away from the “fiscal cliff” of broad tax increases and deep spending cuts slated to take effect in January, which could push the fragile economy back into recession.
Without action by year’s end, the George W. Bush-era tax cuts would expire, as would a 2 percent Social Security payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits for millions of jobless. At the same time, $109 billion in across-the-board spending cuts would begin to take effect under the sequestration agreed to under last summer’s debt ceiling law.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle want to continue at least some of the tax cuts and strongly oppose the automatic spending cuts, particularly those directed at the Pentagon. But there is no consensus on a solution, with Democrats demanding revenue increases and Republicans resisting.
Both sides had hoped the elections would settle the standoff, but Republicans and Democrats appeared to be entrenched in their positions as the voting gave way to a Congressional landscape that looks, on the surface, little changed. Democrats argue that because Obama campaigned on the idea of raising tax rates for the wealthiest Americans, some of the tax cuts should be allowed to expire.
On Friday, Obama made that argument himself in his first public statement since election night, rejecting the idea that he didn’t have a mandate to raise taxes on the wealthy.
“This was a central question of the election,” Obama said, contending that a majority of people agreed with his position, including Democrats, independents and many Republicans. “Our job now is to get a majority in Congress to reflect the will of the American people.”
But the only sign that GOP lawmakers might bend was that some members of the leadership have suggested the most contentious issues should be put off until next year.
In his own media availability Friday, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) hinted at his previous suggestion that lawmakers punt on the fiscal cliff until the 113th Congress, so the new Members elected Tuesday have the ability to weigh in.
“I propose that we avert the fiscal cliff in a manner that ensures that 2013 is the year our government finally comes to grips with the major problems that are facing us,” he said.