New Congress set to put brakes on Obama's agenda

16:32, November 03, 2010      

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The U.S. mid-term elections on Tuesday saw Republicans retaking the House of Representatives with record gains. Experts say the big win could mean a powerful Republican Party set to change the dynamics in Washington and the way President Barack Obama pursues his agenda.

John Fortier, a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, told Xinhua in an interview Tuesday that when Obama had a large Democratic majority in Congress, he was able to focus on big, long-term priorities such as healthcare.

However, in absence of such a majority, Obama would have to focus "on smaller issues, issues Republicans might support," Fortier said.

Republicans, heavily benefiting from the anti-spending Tea Party movement, have indicated what they will do.

"Change course," John Boehner, the House Republican Leader who is likely to be the next Speaker, said Tuesday night in the party's victory speech. He promised that the GOP will cut government spending when it takes over the House.

"I do think the president is going to have to spend some time saying he understood the message sent in the election, especially acknowledging the worries of the American public about debt and deficits and the size of the government," Fortier said.

Obama is quick to react. He called Boehner and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, saying he was "looking forward" to working with them and the Republicans to "find common ground, move the country forward and get things done for the American people," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said in a statement.

The elections are framed as a referendum on policies of Obama and the Democratic Party, which controls both the Senate and the House. Experts say it reflected voters' frustration with high unemployment and big government spending.

John Zogby, a pollster, told Xinhua on Tuesday that with two out of three voters saying they are more angry and disappointed than ever, the elections mean change.

"The president of the United States is not on the ballot. However, the president is the main issue in the campaign," Zogby said.

Change means Obama will probably have to stop promoting agenda that is "large and not directly related to what people are concerned about," Fortier said.

But that doesn't mean caving in completely to Republican demands. Fortier predicted that just like former president Bill Clinton, who won a re-election after the Republicans took over Congress in mid-term elections, Obama will have to find some ways to fight Republicans to show he has a different vision.

"I think he has to be a nimble politician to do a bit of both, to move some to the middle of those issues, but to distinguish himself from that Republican majority down the road," Fortier said.

His reform agenda may be stalled by the new Congress, but that's a familiar pattern in U.S. politics, which traditionally sees the president's party lose Congressional seats in mid-term elections. However, Obama actually has a decent chance to turn things around for his re-election campaign in 2012.

"Frustration with Democrats does not translate into love for Republicans," Zogby explained, noting that Republicans are quite unpopular despite their big win in the elections. He added that both Republicans and Democrats are going to have battles within their own parties in the coming year, as well as battles against each other.

"One person potentially can emerge as the winner from all of it, and that is the president of the United States. That is what we have to watch very closely," Zogby said.

"Is he the one who can now project like John Kennedy, like Ronald Reagan, a national unifying figure?" Zogby asked.

"We have had a number of presidents who have had very bad mid-term results, but (were) then re-elected overwhelmingly once the economy improved," Fortier said. "Two years is a long time."

Source: Xinhua


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