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President Obama can savor victory now, but ‘fiscal cliff’ looms

US President Barack ObamFirst Lady Michelle Obamtheir daughters Mali Shasborad Air Force One Chicago O'Hare International Airport Chicago November 7

US President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama and their daughters Mali and Shasa borad Air Force One at Chicago O'Hare International Airport in Chicago on November 7, 2012. Obama returns to Washington on Wednesday emboldened by his re-election but facing the daunting task of breaking down partisan gridlock in a bitterly divided Congress. Obama told Americans "the best is yet to come" after defying dark economic omens to handily defeat Mitt Romney, but his in-tray is already overflowing with unfulfilled first term wishes thwarted by blanket Republican opposition. AFP PHOTO/Jewel SamadJEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images

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Updated: January 6, 2013 10:13AM



President Barack Obama should not spend too long relishing his stunning victory.

In a few days he has to confront a divided Congress — albeit with a vastly strengthened hand — to prevent the nation from falling off the “fiscal cliff” at the end of the year.

Obama in his first term never achieved the post-partisan era he promised when he ran the first time. Now he has a second chance.

How will he govern? How will he break through a gridlocked Republican House and a Democratic Senate that the election also yielded?

He will have his first test very soon. Congress meets again Nov. 13, staring at an end-of-year deadline to avoid that fiscal cliff during the lame-duck session. The issues are the very ones that defined the 2012 presidential contest: taxes, the skyrocketing national debt and the budget. If Congress does not act by Dec. 31 on these inter-related matters, a series of automatic cuts kick in under the Budget Control Act of 2011.

Obama whipped Mitt Romney in a race the Republicans said he could never win as long as unemployment was high. Yet Obama beat Romney in most of the nine battleground states where this election was most fiercely fought.

That certainly makes him stronger in dealing with Congress. And the Republicans in the House could or should know that a rejection of Romney could be seen in part as an affirmation of the Obama agenda.

Will the GOP leadership give Obama running room?

I caught up with Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the No. 2 leader in the Senate, at McCormick Place as he was leaving to connect with Obama before returning to the hall for the election night celebration.

“We are just weeks away from seeing something none of us want to see happen,” he told me.

Obama will, of course, reach out to GOP leaders.

But it is a two-way street.

“It is important that we have some kind of effort I hope by the leadership on the Republican side to say this campaign is over, we are ready to work,” Durbin said.

One of the biggest mistakes of Obama and his team was not figuring out a way to blunt the rise of the Tea Party movement. A lot depends on how the GOP deals with its right wing in the wake of Romney’s defeat.

“I don’t want to be too negative,” Durbin said, “but they [the Tea Party] have not been helpful at all and I don’t know if there is a change of heart after this election.”

Obama will get pressure from his own ranks — from the progressives who fault him even as he won a second term — as too ready to compromise.

The biggest thing Obama has going for him is that he does not have hanging over him another campaign. He can use all the fight he talked about in the closing days of the campaign to see if he can do it right this time around.



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