obama-420x0.jpgBy Justin Mahlahla

 

Whether he likes it or not, US President Barack Obama will have no choice but to work with Republicans to pass the rest of his domestic legislative agenda after his Democratic Party suffered a landslide defeat in congressional elections yesterday.

 

The conservative Republican Party captured more than 50 seats in the House of Representatives in Tuesday’s election, a result that leaves them in firm control of the lower chamber for the first time since 2006.

 

Republicans also made significant gains in the US Senate, but projections showed Democrats maintained a slim majority of at least 50 seats in the 100-member upper chamber.

Tuesday’s defeat comes after Obama was elected in 2008 on a message of change that energized voters across the political spectrum. Two years later, pollster John Zogby said it was clear that ‘change is in the air’ once again.

 

The massive losses suffered by Obama’s Democrats were largely due to the weak state of the US economy, which is likely to be the top priority when the new Congress convenes in January.

 

Exit polls from Tuesday’s election found that more than 60 per cent of voters rated the sluggish economy as their top concern. Unemployment remains stuck at 9.6 per cent and the world’s largest economy grew a meagre 2 per cent in the third quarter of this year.

Obama used much of his political capital in the first two years to pass controversial overhauls of health care and financial regulation.

 

Critics argue the efforts distracted from the task of repairing the economy, while other voters complain that Obama overreached by

expanding the role of government over key sectors of the economy.

 

Republican John Boehner, who is set to lead the House in January, said the election results marked ‘a repudiation of Washington, a repudiation of big government, and a repudiation of politicians who refused to listen to the American people.’

 

The shift in congressional power means Obama will have to curb his ambitions as he tries to work with Republicans in the next few years. Some major casualties are likely to be efforts to tackle climate change and reform immigration laws.

 

The Democratic Party’s defeat means Republicans will once again have a hand in governing. In a US capital that has become intensely polarized over the last few years, the question will be if there are areas where the two sides can find common ground.

 

Obama charged often in his first few years that Republicans refused to work with the new president on key legislative issues. With control of Congress now divided, Republicans could share some blame in the coming years if the economy does not improve.

 

‘It’s a lot easier to run against a ‘do nothing’ Congress that’s run by the opposition than it is to run against a ‘do nothing’ Congress that is run by your own party,’ Zogby said.

 

Obama spoke with Boehner as the results became clear on Tuesday night. US media have speculated that Obama may call a ‘summit’ with Republicans some time in November to discuss a way forward. 
 

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The party that controls the House or the Senate holds crucial power, taking the lead in writing bills and deciding which to bring up for a vote and when. A Republican House could pass legislation, such as promised tax relief, on simple majority votes and without any Democratic support. But Senate Democrats could block House-passed bills, including any repeal of Obama’s healthcare overhaul.

 

Earlier, Obama, who warned supporters in Rhode Island late Monday to “run scared” of losing their congressional majorities, planned to mount an 11th-hour coast-to-coast blitz through crucial battlegrounds.

 

barack_obama.jpg“I’ve got to have you come out in droves and vote in this election. You’ve got to come out and vote. And, look, if everybody who voted in 2008 votes in 2010, we are confident we will win this election,” he said.

 

Historically, a sitting US president’s party loses seats in his first mid-term elections, though such contests have not been good predictors of chances for a second term. There was little change since last month in terms of the most important problems facing Americans.

 

Americans want the focus of the next Congress in 2011 to be on jobs. Among those surveyed, 65 percent said creating jobs should be a “crucial” focus and 97 percent said it is important.