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Analysis: Both sides see mandate, hard road ahead

By Charles Babington

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 02:53 p.m. HST, Nov 07, 2012

WASHINGTON » President Barack Obama’s re-election, coupled with Republicans’ continued hold on the House, gives both parties a chance to rethink, and perhaps undo, the bitter partisanship that has gripped Washington for four years and frustrated Americans who see big problems going unsolved.

It won’t be easy. Both sides claim, with some justification, a mandate from the voters.

“We’ll have as much of a mandate as he will,” House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said shortly before the election, correctly anticipating the results.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell was frostier in his post-election remarks. “The voters have not endorsed the failures or excesses of the president’s first term,” McConnell said. 

“Now it’s time for the president to propose solutions that actually have a chance of passing the Republican-controlled House,” he said, “and deliver in a way that he did not in his first four years in office.”

After three straight swing elections, Americans decided to keep Obama in the White House, leave Republicans in control of the House and let Democrats stay atop the Senate, with Republicans still able to block measures with filibusters.

There’s an irony, or self-flagellation, there. Americans express exasperation at the partisan sniping and gridlock that pushed the nation to the brink of defaulting on its loans last year, and which might trigger new crises soon. The narrowness of Obama’s win accurately reflects the nation’s nearly 50-50 partisan divide. It’s a split that will make progress on any major issues difficult for at least another two years, and probably longer.

Every newly elected president claims a mandate, and Obama can point to the roughly $1 billion that Mitt Romney and his GOP allies spent trying to oust him. Yet, for all its tactical brilliance, Obama’s campaign was built on relatively modest ideas. It focused on helping the middle class, which is a coalition of identity, not ideology.

It may have been a status quo election. But if the White House and congressional Republicans simply stand their ground on taxes and other issues, they run risks — not just for the nation’s well-being, but also for the legacies of a barrier-breaking president and a Republican Party that has tapped a deep vein of conservative, almost libertarian emotion.

In many ways, of course, Obama’s place in history is assured. The first black to be elected president has now joined eight other men who, since 1900, won the office more than once. His biggest first-term achievement — the “Obamacare” health delivery overhaul — is safe from repeal by a President Mitt Romney.

Obama’s other top goals, however, were largely thwarted by a united Republican Party that fought him at almost every turn. Republicans provided not a single House or Senate vote for the health care law. They beat back his efforts to end the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthiest households.

Obama offered an olive branch in his victory speech early Wednesday. “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,” he said.

Republican leaders announced four years ago that their top goal was to deny Obama a second term. On Tuesday, they lost, even though the nation’s high unemployment seemed to make Obama ripe for defeat. Some, perhaps much, of Romney’s loss will be traced to Americans’ discontent with an opposition party that refused to compromise on big issues even when it’s obvious that neither party can get everything it wants.

Boehner, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell and other GOP officials now must decide where to bend and where to keep standing firm. They’ll have to tip their hand soon. A package of huge tax hikes and spending cuts — known as the “fiscal cliff,” and which both parties deeply dislike — is scheduled to take effect in the new year.

So far, Republicans have adamantly refused to raise taxes, even on the richest Americans, as part of a deficit-reduction package. Obama and other Democrats say such tax hikes must be part of the deal. They will point to Tuesday’s election as validation. Boehner will point to his sustained majority. 

Democrats think Obama learned some hard lessons in his first four years, including a realization that he must get deeply involved in the sometimes unpleasant business of crafting and negotiating legislation.

“The American people have made it pretty clear that they are sick of gridlock and fighting,” said Jim Manley, a former Democratic Senate aide. Boehner and McConnell, he said, “have figured out that the tea party has done enormous damage to their brand, to say nothing about the economy, and that something has to change.”

At the same time, Manley said, “the president is going to have to play a more forceful role in the legislative process.”

Obama signaled some of his second-term goals in a recent Des Moines Register interview. The fiscal cliff’s economic threat is so severe, he said, that a congressional compromise is likely.

“It will probably be messy,” the president said. “But I am absolutely confident that we can get what is the equivalent of the grand bargain that essentially I’ve been offering to the Republicans.” It calls for $2.50 in spending cuts for every $1 in new revenue.

“The second thing I’m confident we’ll get done next year is immigration reform,” he said. Perhaps. Or it could prove as difficult as President George W. Bush’s bid to partly privatize Social Security right after his re-election.

In recent years, the very idea of bipartisan compromise has come under growing attack, as Americans got fed up with soaring deficits, longstanding threats to Medicare and other problems left unresolved by Congress’ old practices. The anger gave birth to the tea party, which boosted candidates who vow not to compromise if they reach Washington.

Passion and ideology drive the tea party. Congressional leaders, historically, are realists. They keep their committee chairmanships and party leadership posts by constantly monitoring the moods and needs of their rank-and-file colleagues.

Some Washington veterans say Boehner is posturing when he claims that his party won as big a mandate as Obama did. When Republicans see that the no-new-taxes argument lost Tuesday, Boehner “is certain to come to the table to begin to deal,” said Matt Bennett of the Democratic-leaning think tank Third Way.

“Boehner and McConnell surely know that they cannot continue to be pure obstructionists and that the economic consequences of going over the fiscal cliff would be extreme,” Bennett said. But it’s not clear they can control their caucuses, he said.

Indeed, the GOP is surely about to engage in some intense self-examination and infighting.

John Feehery, a former top House Republican aide, said Obama’s re-election may give the White House less clout than Democratic insiders think.

“Republicans will feel they have just as big a mandate as the president,” Feehery said. It’s possible that Boehner and Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada “will do the deals and put Obama on mute,” he said.

Reid, at least for now, sounds upbeat and bipartisan.

“Democrats and Republicans must come together, and show that we are up to the challenge” of tackling big problems, Reid said after the election was called. “This is no time for excuses.”


EDITOR’S NOTE — Charles Babington covers Congress and national politics for The Associated Press.

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NoFire wrote:
Time for all of our elected officials to remember they work for us...not either party!
on November 7,2012 | 05:12AM
HD36 wrote:
There are a lot of things one could say about the election results... but very few things that are worth saying. One point that I absolutely must make is this-- after December 31st, - Income tax rates are going up - Capital gains rates are going up - Rates on dividends are going up - Estate and gift tax exclusions are going down. Dramatically. If you are a US taxpayer, you now have 53 days to get your tax affairs in order. It is not too late to substantially reduce your lifetime tax liability, and I strongly recommend that you get in touch with your tax planner as soon as possible, in particular to make full use of your available exclusions.
on November 7,2012 | 08:18AM
Kuokoa wrote:
True, true, so true!
on November 7,2012 | 08:22AM
serious wrote:
Well, in all due respect. 90% of our federal legislators are millionaires and any change in the Capital gains rates will hinder them--no way will they let that happen. It also effects union pension funds--never happen!!! There will be a lame duck excuse to extend/change things. My problem is that I can't plan ahead--one year at a time for capital gains--can't hire, can't expand--the future is a mystery!!! We needed a businessman in the WH and it didn't happen.
on November 7,2012 | 10:00AM
CriticalReader wrote:
The GOP and their talking heads look like a bunch of fools. And, watch, now they're going to exacerbate the consequences of their foolishness by behaving in an undignified, sour grapes manner. C'mon GOP, you shot yourselves in the foot and ruined your party. Time to grow up and stop acting like a bunch of spoiled children. Don't ruin the Nation too.
on November 7,2012 | 11:28AM
hawaiikone wrote:
Humble is a local trademark. Try it. Might work better than "fools".
on November 7,2012 | 05:17PM
CriticalReader wrote:
Speak of the devil.
on November 7,2012 | 06:38PM
hawaiikone wrote:
pearls before swine...
on November 7,2012 | 07:32PM
CriticalReader wrote:
Hmmmmmm. . . quoting the Bible now. . . you sure you want to go that route? You lose there too: Matthew 5:38-48
on November 8,2012 | 01:10PM
hawaiikone wrote:
What a laugh. You really don't want to go there. Again, since your obviously not "local", my suggestion is lost on you. So go ahead and crow all you wish.
on November 8,2012 | 06:44PM
CriticalReader wrote:
Go where? The Bible? Bring it. But, neo-con wannabe, try to overcome your solipsism syndrome first. Once you've hit dead ends on every road you try to veer down, being trapped in a mind with no outlets won't be much fun.
on November 8,2012 | 09:49PM
hawaiikone wrote:
Still crowing. Amusing. Does your assessment extend to the other 50 million voters who agree with me? Your pedantic diatribe seems to reveal needs much deeper than a political debate.
on November 9,2012 | 05:56AM
hawaiikone wrote:
My devotions this morning included 2 Timothy 2, 23-24. Should have read that yesterday. Regardless, be content in your position, as I am in mine. As I've mentioned in other posts, my prayers remain with our nation. Aloha.
on November 9,2012 | 07:51AM
CriticalReader wrote:
The problem is your knee jerk reaction was to characterize my initial point as foolish or ignorant. And, that turned the conversation thus. I believe that's taught behavior. So, my point, I believer, was no less apparent. The GOP's approach, and especially that of who they enlist as their "talking heads" and surrogates, WAS undignified, sour grapes, and even became more absurd after the election. I appreciate your search or discovery and/or re-discovery of the principals set forth in 23-24, and you conciliatory tone. I hope those who share your sentiments can come to the same conclusion. But, I believe it would be better for everyone if the discussion became productive. And, I am of the firm belief that the talking heads and surrogates I referred to originally and in this post have already caused great harm to this country, but also, ironically, the very party/movement/cause they purport to serve. I think we all share a common interest in marginalizing them . . . at least off the airwaves if possible (the good news is that Glen Beck is apparently thinking of moving out of the country). And, because I believe getting rid of those guys and gals would be a boon to the GOP's fortunes (no pun intended) I would suggest to you that that position is me shooting myself in my liberal foot (with the gun I abhor and don't believe I or anyone else except cops and soldiers should be able to posses).
on November 9,2012 | 11:02AM
hawaiikone wrote:
Your initial comment from memory implied that the federal government under Romney would not provide aid to victims of a major disaster. Considering the character of Mr. Romney, and the resources at any president's disposal, I felt your position was extreme. In retrospect, my response as worded was unnecessary, yet the assessment remains my opinion. My faith in God far exceeds my faith in man, and His word reminds us that all leaders serve at His pleasure, including Mr. Obama. We do face a tough road ahead, and calling others "fools" for disagreeing with your opinion doesn't seem appropriate or productive. I'm equally repulsed by Rush as I am by Bill Mahre, both sides have their fair share of extremists, I wouldn't want to be stereotyped with either. I hope you'll at least agree that being in the majority doesn't always mean being in the right. I pray cooler heads can bring us toward unity rather than the hotter ones continuing to drive the wedge deeper. With respect to guns, I used one in the service of my country and believe our founders understood that free men, to remain free, need the protection of the 2nd amendment. You and I may not think alike, but I trust we can do so with civility.
on November 9,2012 | 12:44PM
CriticalReader wrote:
My comment about a President Romney responding poorly if at all through an intact and able FEMA was based simply upon what Romney himself had said. And, I think that if he'd been elected WITHOUT Sandy coming when it did, and without an intervening disaster before he could, he would have gutted FEMA all he could have. And that would have led to even greater disaster. At least for time the Federal government would have floundered before reversing course and trying to throw emergency appropriation money back into FEMA to fix the situation. The point is that all the GOP rhetoric about shrinking government had overtaken Romney to the point where he was talking about doing things that placed life, liberty and property directly at risk of being lost when the Federal Government could protect it. How that is extreme, I do not understand.
on November 10,2012 | 05:18AM
Descartes22 wrote:
This comment has been deleted.
on November 7,2012 | 06:00AM
scooters wrote:
No way to beat Obama when all the Cockroaches come out of the woodwork to vote for him...
on November 7,2012 | 10:32AM
Dragonman wrote:
Its called democracy. Maybe you should run for office and change things.
on November 7,2012 | 12:21PM
Manoa2 wrote:
Just looking at the Republicans, their marndate cannot be viewed as staying the course in fighting the President. Several Rpublican candidates who ran on a tea party type platform lost and many who won campaigned to end gridlock and work with the Democrats.
on November 7,2012 | 06:25AM
bender wrote:
I can't resiist this. Where is tiki, palani, peanutgallery, hawaiikone, serios, et al this morning.
on November 7,2012 | 07:59AM
Kuokoa wrote:
They stay hung over from all the celebrating. Hah!
on November 7,2012 | 08:23AM
Maneki_Neko wrote:
In line submitting resumes for PRP jobs.
on November 7,2012 | 10:23AM
hawaiikone wrote:
I'm still here. My prayer will be that I was wrong. I fought for this country and would rather see it move forward than be able to say "we told you so".
on November 7,2012 | 11:28AM
HD36 wrote:
It took the US 200 years before we accumulated our first $Trillion dollars in debt. It took the US 286 days before we accumulated our last $ Trillion dollars in debt. ( from $15 trillion to $16 trillion) $600 billion will hardly put a dent in it.
on November 7,2012 | 08:07AM
Maneki_Neko wrote:
The game plan going forward is to blame Bush.
on November 7,2012 | 10:22AM
scooters wrote:
So now Obama can't blame the last 4 years on Bush. He owns every bit of of his failed presidency. We're on the edge of destruction with this guy. And that's goes for us here in Hawaii. People here keep putting the same do nothing, vote party line, don't offend Daniel, Democrats. We are not equally represented in the Government.
on November 7,2012 | 10:30AM
Dbung wrote:
I am not so sure that Obama can successfully get us out of this mess. A friend of mine said that she would want Obama to win because it seems that he is time to take his time on things and eventually it will get done. We cannot afford to take our time. Our economy is growing, but the growth is shrinking. I have no choice to support him now that he is reelected. I just hope he can make things happen.
on November 7,2012 | 11:58AM
Dragonman wrote:
I wish everyone had your attitude. Whenever the Republicans won I always supported the country even if I did not like the president elect.
on November 7,2012 | 12:26PM
Dragonman wrote:
Like I said, why don't you run for office and change things.
on November 7,2012 | 12:24PM
group22 wrote:
For those that wanted Romney, the hard fact is that big government, big unions and redistribution (socialism) are the agenda items for the next four years. The people have spoken. A significant % of the population want free stuff. A significant % of the population want to give free stuff. Combining both elements of the popluation and you've got the majority that voted Obama in.
on November 7,2012 | 12:22PM
HD36 wrote:
The election was merely an excercise to see who will captain the sinking of the Titanic.
on November 7,2012 | 05:33PM
false wrote:
Do you think Harry Reid will allow the first budget of the Barry years to come out of the Senate during the next four years?
on November 7,2012 | 07:37PM
CriticalReader wrote:
Thanks. If only your GOP talking head and politician compatriots could follow suit.
on November 9,2012 | 11:03AM
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