The big question is what happens next

Official Washington and many Americans around the country are voicing relief after congressional action on a compromise partial plan to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff of tax increases and budget cuts that could have plunged the U.S. economy into recession.  But more battles between the White House and Congress over spending and taxes are expected in a matter of weeks.

After months of political debate, President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans were finally able to craft a narrow agreement to avoid tax increases for all Americans.

But the agreement does little to end the continuing battle over federal government spending, which Republicans remain determined to cut during the months ahead despite losses in last November’s general elections.

The next major clash could come as early as next month, when congressional action will be needed to raise the debt limit so that the government can continue to borrow enough money to pay its bills.

President Obama is already warning Republicans that any attempt to block raising the debt ceiling to demand cuts in government spending could harm the nation’s fragile economic recovery.

“While I will negotiate over many things, I will not have another debate with this Congress over whether or not they should pay the bills that they’ve already racked up through the laws that they passed,” he said.

But Republicans like Rep. Spencer Bachus of Alabama are unhappy that the latest compromise in Congress only prevented a tax increase and did little to cut government spending.

“There’s no spending cuts.  We’re adding $4 billion a day to the debt,” said Bachus.

The battle over spending cuts is also expected to resurface in two months, when Congress will have to take action to avoid mandatory cuts in defense and domestic spending.

Analysts say both Democrats and Republicans will need to show more willingness to compromise to avoid a deadlock.

Ken Duberstein, who served as White House chief of staff under President Ronald Reagan, a Republican, says that Republicans will have to accept the idea they will be dealing with President Obama for another four years.  But he adds that the president has a responsibility to reach out to Republican lawmakers if the two sides are to get much done during Obama’s second term.

“So second-term presidents can learn that you can’t get it all your own way, you have to reach out.  You have to build.  You have to give a little bit more,” he said.

Even though Obama won reelection in November, many Republicans still see themselves on equal footing with the Democratic president because they kept their majority in the House of Representatives.

“In the old days, elections mattered more than they do now in the sense that a president who was reelected clearly had a mandate to do something, assuming his margin was decent,” said Larry Sabato, who directs the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. “Well, Obama won by nearly four percentage points.  Decades ago that would have been enough to certainly get his top priority through Congress.  It doesn’t work that way anymore.”

Congress is also expected to tackle difficult partisan issues like gun control and immigration reform this year, two areas where the president has said he would like to see action during his second term.

But Republican analyst Scot Faulkner, who worked for Republicans in the House of Representatives during the 1990s and for the Reagan administration, says the fractious debate over taxes and spending could negatively affect other issues.

“Until people get off the campaign treadmill and think again about governing first and then standing on a record of governing instead of a record of rhetoric, we are going to keep on this treadmill,” said Faulkner.

Although Democrats hold more seats in the new Congress, the split remains between Democrats who hold a majority in the Senate and Republicans who control the House.

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