Split Congress leaves US still on edge of 'fiscal cliff'

Washington

So the Republicans retained their majority in the House of Representatives and the Democrats kept control of the Senate – a recipe for continued gridlock in Congress as the country is threatened with tumbling off a "fiscal cliff". Yesterday, jittery world markets reacted accordingly and stocks plunged.

Mr Obama's victory is less clear-cut than it may seem from his overwhelming electoral-college victory over former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. The American public remain bitterly divided at the national level, and the situation in Congress, which has legislative power and controls the country's purse strings, was yesterday composed of broadly the same combative elements as it was before the election.

Every two years, voters have the power to "throw the bums out" from the House of Representatives (only one-third of the Senate is renewed in congressional elections). This year, despite two years of unprecedented political dysfunction and despite congressional approval ratings falling to their lowest levels in history, they weren't.

With votes across the country still being counted, the fight reignited as House Republicans fought off challenges from Democrats, who declared "the end of the Tea Party" – the influential ultra-conservative Republican movement – before the results had even started coming in. Speaker John Boehner said he saw no reason to change course and that the President had "no mandate for raising tax rates" on the American people.

In the Senate, the Democrats had been likely to improve on their 53-47 edge, but without reaching the "magic" 60-seat majority which can stave off damaging filibusters and push through meaningful changes.

In an editorial yesterday, The Wall Street Journal noted that the Republicans held the House comfortably, "so their agenda was hardly repudiated". It went on: "The two sides will have to reach some compromise on the tax cliff, the spending sequester and the debt limit, but Speaker John Boehner can negotiate knowing he has as much of a mandate as the President."

So Mr Obama's hands will continue to be tied in governing the country. Having pledged to pass the so-called Dream Act on immigration reform to help the country's surging Hispanic community, he was forced to bypass Congress and issued an executive order to halt the deportation of illegal immigrants to shore up the Latino vote. In the dying days of the campaign, he again pledged support for the Dream Act, but activists in the Hispanic community know that without congressional support, that dream will die. So America, and Mr Obama – despite his campaign motto "Forward" – are stuck with the status quo.

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