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Editorial: Obama’s Big Task: Make Congress Work

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“Tonight you voted for action, not politics as usual. You elected us to focus on your jobs, not ours. And in the coming weeks and months, I am looking forward to reaching out and working with leaders of both parties to meet the challenges we can only solve together.”

— President Barack Obama’s re-election speech

Congratulations to President Barack Obama on his re-election win. It was a long, bruising battle, and now the tough work begins.

Though the president will win handily in December’s Electoral College vote, the popular vote showed a close race and a still-split America. As of Wednesday afternoon, Obama led unofficially by about 2.7 million votes out of 117.7 million votes cast. That’s 60,193,076 votes, or 50.4 percent, to 57,468,587, or 48.1 percent, with nearly all precincts reporting.

Along with fixing the economy and dealing with the national debt, one of his biggest challenges will be to find a way to make Washington work. The last four years have shown the legislative branch is capable of going for long periods without doing the basic functions its members were elected to do, such as pass a budget. And leadership from the White House has been lacking. The president’s own budget proposal didn’t attract even a single vote from his own party.

Though both Democrats and Republicans were trying hard Wednesday to explain why Tuesday’s results were both a call to end partisan gridlock in Washington and a mandate for their positions, the only clear message was that money isn’t the most convincing form of speech — even if it might be the most irritating kind. It has been estimated that about $6 billion was spent on the 2012 election, and for what? To end up basically where we were before, with a Democratic president and Senate and a Republican House.

And, though Obama delivered an inspiring speech Tuesday, other commenters sounded like they could have been speaking two years ago, leaving little room for hope that the days of partisan gridlock are past.

Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Senate’s top Republican, said: “The voters have not endorsed the failures or excesses of the president’s first term, they have simply given him more time to finish the job they asked him to do together with a Congress that restored balance to Washington after two years of one-party control.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, issued a statement: “The president said he believed that the American people sent a message in yesterday’s election that leaders in both parties need to put aside their partisan interests and work with common purpose to put the interests of the American people and the American economy first.”

But Reid delivered a same-old same-old, divisive message a bit later when he told reporters that any solution should include higher taxes on “the richest of the rich” and that he will try to push through a change to Senate rules that would limit the GOP’s ability to filibuster bills.

Republican House Speaker John A. Boehner, said his party is open to “increased revenue … as the by-product of a growing economy, energized by a simpler, cleaner, fairer tax code, with fewer loopholes, and lower rates for all.”

He added, “The American people have also made clear that there is no mandate for raising tax rates. What Americans want are solutions that will ease the burden on small businesses, bring jobs home, and let our economy grow. We stand ready to work with any willing partner — Republican, Democrat, or otherwise — who shares a commitment to getting these things done.”

It would appear that to leaders of both parties the word “compromise” still means “coming over to our side.”

Perhaps it’s all just post-election posturing, but the comments do little to foster hope for meaningful change and needed cooperation as the nation heads closer to the fiscal cliff.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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