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Campaign Notes: What's next?

By John Barron

Barack Obama may have won a surprisingly emphatic victory in the 2012 presidential election, but it was clear from his speech in Chicago Tuesday night that he knows the steep economic road ahead can’t be walked alone:

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…

His immediate concern: the so-called fiscal cliff, an economic time-bomb rigged up last year when Congress failed to come up with a long term deficit-reduction plan as it squabbled over the increase to America’s debt-ceiling.

At the end of December this year there will be massive automatic cuts to spending on welfare entitlements as well as defence, and tax increases across the board, which economists fear could tip the frail US economy straight back into recession.

The solution rests in the hands of Congress, but the composition of the House of Representatives and the Senate is essentially unchanged from before the election. Republicans hold the House majority and Democrats retain the majority in the Senate and, importantly, the keys to the White House — deeply divided government with a pressing need for compromise from both sides.

Gridlock is no longer an option.

Meanwhile, the sense of a looming crisis is already being ginned-up.

Fox News, still shaking its collective head in disbelief that President Obama was re-elected, has replaced their election countdown graphic to “54 DAYS UNTIL THE FISCAL CLIFF.”

Tick, tick, tick…

After the most negative, expensive, and divisive presidential campaign ever, will law-makers come together?

Last night President Obama was certainly reaching out, even if it was clearly with the upper hand:

In the weeks ahead I also look forward to sitting down with Governor Romney to talk about where we can work together to move this country forward.

Just how genuine the president is remains to be seen. Republicans point out he said something similar to Senator John McCain in 2008 and then embarked on a period of single-party rule using a Senate super-majority that required no cross-party support.

But this is the same Barack Obama who was inspired by the idea of Lincoln’s “team of rivals” and reached out to former rivals Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden to join his cabinet.

Could Obama be considering a formal role for Romney? Perhaps the chairman of a re-jigged commission for fiscal responsibility like Simpson-Bowles?

Unlikely. But it would be a bold and confident move from a reinvigorated president — a president who knows he will never stand for election again and who also knows that his legacy depends on getting things done, not just biding his time.

Obama spoke during his inspiring 2008 campaign of the “fierce urgency of now.” Heading in to 2013, that urgency has never been greater.

9 November 2012