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Obama heads into Washington battle

‘Fiscal cliff’ could lead US back to a recession

US President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama and their daughters arriving at Andrews Air Force Base near Washington early yesterday after the US presidential election. Photo: Reuters

US President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama and their daughters arriving at Andrews Air Force Base near Washington early yesterday after the US presidential election. Photo: Reuters

President Barack Obama returned to the White House yesterday emboldened by his stunning re-election and challenging his Republican opponents to work with him to avert a looming fiscal crisis.

The liberal euphoria that greeted Obama’s landmark election defeat of Mitt Romney was shortlived as he immediately set about the daunting task of ending the partisan gridlock of a bitterly divided US Congress.

Before leaving Chicago, Obama was already on the phone trying to bridge the gap with Republican leaders to avoid a catastrophic “fiscal cliff” that could plunge the fragile North American economy back into recession.

A combination of dramatic spending cuts and tax increases will take effect on January 1 without a deal on reducing the ballooning budget deficit, with Democrats and Republicans in Congress locked in a who-blinks-first stand-off.

Obama called congressional leaders, sending out an overt message that his priority was to try to break the deadlock in the lame-duck session of Congress that precedes his January 21 inauguration ceremony.

He spoke to Republican House Speaker John Boehner and also telephoned the minority Republican leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, as well as top Democrats.

“The President reiterated his commitment to finding bipartisan solutions to reduce our deficit in a balanced way, cut taxes for middle class families and small businesses and create jobs,” a White House official said.

Obama believes that by returning him to the Oval Office, American voters signalled to Washington that both parties must set aside partisan interests and put the economy first, the official said.

But Boehner offered little during a Wednesday press conference, in which his opening gambit was an unpalatable short-term fix to the “fiscal cliff” that the President has repeatedly opposed.

Obama arrived back at the White House at 12.55am, following his unexpectedly decisive victory, claiming almost all the states he won in his historic 2008 electoral college landslide.

A campaign official said on the flight that election night returns unfolded very close to what the Obama team had expected, though there was surprise at how quickly US television networks called the race.

Key to victory was the “ground game” waged in battleground states.

In explaining the superiority of Obama’s operation, the official mentioned a conversation he had with a top field director on Monday, in which he said a rival Republican had tweeted that Romney’s team had knocked on 75,000 doors in the must-win state of Ohio the previous day. Not to worry, the director said, “we knocked on 376,000”.

Obama triumphed despite the highest unemployment rate of any US president since Franklin Roosevelt in 1936 and became only the second Democrat since then to win a second term – the other being his stalwart supporter Bill Clinton.

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