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Congress: Will fiscal cliff, election results lead partisans to stand down?

Post-election, the GOP-led House still sees its mandate as tax-hike prevention. Obama and the Democrats still want to raise taxes for the wealthy. But if they don't work together, the looming 'fiscal cliff' – which no one wants to see – may doom them all.

By Staff writer / November 7, 2012

President Obama and supporters celebrate victory at McCormick Place, on Wednesday morning, in Chicago.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff

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In theory, at least, President Obama’s clear election victory should – or at least could – open the way to bipartisanship in Washington.

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His win may have been slimmer than in 2008, but Republicans in Congress can no longer have as their highest priority stopping Mr. Obama’s reelection, as Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell famously vowed two years ago. Nor, given the “fiscal cliff” dead ahead, can Republicans and Democrats simply stay entrenched in their partisan positions.

But don’t expect sweetness and light emanating from Washington with the dawn of a new political order, for in fact that order is not all that different than what it’s been these past few contentious years. With some notable exceptions, the lineup at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue remains relatively the same: Democratic president, Republican House, and Democratic (but not filibuster-proof) Senate.

As Jake Sherman and Manu Raju of Politico.com put it in the wee hours after Tuesday night’s election results were known, “Obama’s convincing reelection, the Republicans’ sustained majority in the House, and Democrats’ hold on the Senate only further complicate the prospects of cutting any kind of deal on expiring income tax rates, massive pending cuts to Pentagon spending, and entitlement reform.”

Take one example: raising taxes on the wealthy.

Obama still wants to raise taxes on those making more than $250,000 a year. House Speaker John Boehner is adamantly opposed, even if any tax hike applies only to millionaires and above.

Noting that voters had kept the GOP’s majority in the House, Speaker Boehner told a Republican crowd Tuesday night, “With this vote, 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,” he said. “We stand ready to work with any willing partner – Republican, Democrat, or otherwise – who shares a commitment to getting these things done.”

That sounded like an olive branch, as did Senate majority leader Harry Reid’s comment Tuesday night when he told cheering Democrats, “I look at the challenges that we have ahead of us and I reach out to my Republican colleagues in the Senate and the House.”

“Let’s come together,” he said. “We know what the issues are. Let’s solve them.”

That was pretty much post-election boilerplate by both men, but the way ahead looks daunting in any case.

Tax rates for all Americans will go up at year’s end if nothing is done. The sequester – $109 billion in automatic cuts to defense and nondefense spending – would hit at the same time. So would sharply lower payments for health-care providers for Medicare patients.

Many analysts assert that the GOP might have taken control of the Senate but for major missteps by some very conservative candidates with tea party ties.

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