Obama lands back in changed Washington

Last Updated: Monday, November 15, 2010 - 09:14

Washington: US President Barack Obama landed in a politically-changed Washington after 10 days abroad and called on newly empowered Republicans to drop their strategy of `No` to work with him.

Obama returned from Asia to reverberating aftershocks of mid-term elections which dealt Democrats a crushing defeat and handed Republicans the House of Representatives -- and the means to halt his reform program.

Flying into Washington on Air Force One on Sunday, after a trip that circled the globe, Obama reflected on the meaning of the election defeat two weeks ago, and promised to do more to honour his previous vows to reach across the aisle.

He said that early in his term, an "obsessive" focus on anti-crisis policies had led him to neglect the need to reach across political divides and to get out into the heartland to explain to Americans what he was doing.

"I think, moving forward, I`m going to redouble my efforts to go back to some of those first principles," Obama told reporters.

Obama will sit down with emboldened Republican adversaries on Thursday -- the next House speaker John Boehner and Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell -- to begin what is likely to be a tense two years.

He warned that the Republican strategy of simply opposing everything he does, will no longer do now they have a share of government -- even though they have vowed to do everything possible to deprive him of a second term.

"Campaigning is very different than governing," Obama said.

"They are still flush with victory, having run a strategy that was all about saying no, but I am very confident that the American people were not issuing a mandate for gridlock."

"My expectation is ... they are not going to want to just obstruct, they are going to want to engage constructively," he said.

Obama has a few weeks in a "lame duck" session of the previous Congress starting on Monday to enact key agenda issues, before candidates who drove the Republican wave are officially installed in January.

He said on Sunday he feels "reasonably good about our prospects" for getting a new nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia ratified by the Senate, after weeks of negotiations with Republicans who have reservations about it.

Earlier in the day, Obama told Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in talks in Yokohama, Japan, that his "top priority" was winning Senate ratification of the deal.

US Senate ratification requires 67 votes, meaning Obama`s Democratic allies will need to pick up considerable Republican support.

Obama is also locked with Republicans in a battle over tax cuts dating from the era of former president George W Bush which are due to expire at the end of the year.

Republicans want all of the measures extended permanently, arguing that failure to do so would harm small businesses and the slowly recovering economy.

Obama says the US economy cannot afford such a solution that would add to the deficit and proposes making middle class tax cuts permanent, but allowing rates on those earning more than USD 250,000 a year to rise.

McConnell, in a statement responding to Obama`s comments on Sunday, made the tax cuts issue a test of the president`s vow of bipartisanship.

"While the President and some of his allies in Congress have a strange desire to raise taxes on hundreds of thousands of small businesses across the country, we would welcome the President`s help to extend all the current tax rates so that no one sees a tax hike," McConnell said.

"There is no reason we can`t work together to prevent equally a tax hike on families and small businesses."

A compromise will be necessary because although Democrats will still have their House majority until January, Republicans have enough seats in the Democratic-controlled Senate to filibuster bills and block Obama`s goals.

The President will only be in Washington for a few days however before heads abroad.

On Thursday, he is set to swap engaging emerging powers in Asia for the traditional powers of "old" Europe and the trans-Atlantic alliance, as he travels to Portugal for the NATO summit.

The meeting, which will include talks with Medvedev as a sign of warming ties between the alliance and Russia, will be focused primarily on the Afghan war, as Obama launches and end-of-year strategy review.

Obama`s tour of Asia included stops in India, his boyhood home of Indonesia, Seoul for the G20 economic summit and a Pacific Rim summit in Japan.

Bureau Report



First Published: Monday, November 15, 2010 - 09:14

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