Now the real battle begins: ‘fiscal cliff’ looms for Obama with Congress deadlocked


Washington DC

The US Congress faces continuing gridlock as the country hurtles towards a “fiscal cliff”, with the House of Representatives and the Senate remaining as divided as before amid record spending by outside groups to influence the result.

One notable result in the Senate was the upset victory by Harvard professor Elizabeth Warren, the Democratic candidate who defeated Senator Scott Brown in Massachusetts for the seat held over decades by Democratic legend Ted Kennedy.

However, another feature of the election was the punishment of at least two Tea Party-backed Senate hopefuls who, after winning the support of the Republican Party’s conservative grass roots in primary elections, failed to be endorsed by their states’ electorate as a whole.

After losing the House in the 2008 tidal wave for President Barack Obama that put Democrats in control of both the House and the Senate, the Republican Party, buoyed by right-wing extremists in the Tea Party, seized back the House in 2010 on an anti-tax and anti-government platform.

The election outcome means that the House will remain under control of the House, while the Senate will continue to have a majority of Democrats.

In Indiana, Senate hopeful Richard Mourdock was defeated by Democrat Joe Donnelly. Mr Mourdock was backed by the Tea Party and had earlier beaten veteran Senator Richard Lugar in a primary. However, the candidate’s remark that if a woman became pregnant after rape it was “something God wanted to happen”, embarrassed the party’s presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, just before the election. The Indiana contest was the most costly the state has ever seen, with outside groups and the party campaigns spending more than $25m on television advertisements.

In Missouri, incumbent Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill defeated Todd Akin, a six-term Congressman backed by the Tea Party. Mr Akin’s remarks about women’s bodies avoiding pregnancy after “legitimate rape” led to his disavowal in mid-August by Mr Romney and Republican mainstream. But he defied their calls to stand down and his campaign was funded by social conservative groups.

Another major scalp for the Democrats would be Michele Bachmann, a Tea Party ideologue and Congresswoman from Minnesota. She ran an ill-fated campaign to become the Republican presidential candidate and has poured $19m into her campaign against businessman Jim Graves, who has spent $1.5m but has managed to close in on Ms Bachmann. The pair were locked in a tight race last night.

The spending in the Minnesota contest made it the second highest in the nation, after Florida’s 18th district, where Republican Congressman Allen West and Democrat Patrick Murphy have spent $24m between them, according to the website

In Maine, outgoing centrist Republican Senator Olympia Snowe, who complained about the obstructionism by extremists in both main parties, was replaced by independent Angus King, a former governor who overcame challenges from both Republican and Democratic candidates. He is likely to vote with the Democratic majority in the Senate.

Many of the Congressional candidates’ televised exchanges highlighted the gravity of the “fiscal cliff”. Congress is required to act before the end of the year in order to stave off automatic cuts of $600bn in tax rises and spending cuts which could pitch America back into recession. But the House speaker, John Boehner, has played down talk of a possible “grand bargain” in the so-called Lame Duck session of Congress which continues until January.

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