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Wednesday, April 23, 2014  

‘Fiscal cliff’ awaits Obama
WASHINGTON US President Barack Obama overcame a disappointingly slow economic recovery and a massive advertising onslaught to win a second term on Tuesday night, forging a coalition of women, minorities and young people that reflects the changing political face of America.

Obama defeated Republican challenger Mitt Romney in a gruelling presidential race and used his acceptance speech in front of a huge cheering crowd in Chicago to strike a conciliatory note towards his political opponents.

But Obama is returning from the campaign with little time to savour victory, facing urgent economic challenges, a looming fiscal showdown and a still-divided Congress able to block his every move.

Obama had a slim lead in the national popular vote, leading Romney by 50 per cent to 49 per cent after drawing more than 56 million votes. Turnout appeared strong, though official figures had yet to be released.

The president did make history of a fashion on Tuesday, becoming the first incumbent since Franklin D. Roosevelt to win a second term with unemployment above 7.4 per cent.

Separately in Muscat, His Majesty Sultan Qaboos Bin Said has sent a cable of congratulations to US President Barack Obama on the occasion of his re-election as US President for second term.

His Majesty expressed his congratulations and best wishes to Obama in leading the American people to achieve further progress, welfare and prosperity and further progress in the ties between the two countries to serve the interests of the Omani and American people.  

The election outcome was surprisingly swift. Major television networks called the race against Republican Mitt Romney less than 20 minutes after the polls closed on the West Coast, as a succession of battleground states tipped the president’s way.

But in the cold light of the 2012 election’s morning-after, it was clear that even though voters have endorsed a second Obama term, the president will have a hard time translating that into a mandate to push forward with his agenda.

His most immediate concern is confronting a “fiscal cliff” of automatic tax increases and spending cuts that could crush the US economy recovery - a prospect that weighed heavily on global financial markets on Wednesday and sent Wall Street stocks into a post-election swoon.

Voters chose to preserve the status quo of divided government in Washington. Obama’s fellow Democrats retained control of the Senate and Republicans kept their majority in the House of Representatives, giving them power to curb the president’s legislative ambitions on everything from taxes to immigration reform.

With only Florida among the battleground states still to be declared, Obama had 303 electoral votes — well over the 270 needed to win the White House — and Republican challenger Mitt Romney formally conceded the race.

Thousands of Obama supporters at a victory celebration in Chicago erupted in cheers when the race was called, and a boisterous crowd quickly gathered in front of the White House, chanting “four more years” and “O-bama, O-bama.”

Claiming victory before a roaring, flag-waving crowd in his hometown of Chicago, Obama summoned a bit of the poetry that was absent throughout much of the acrid campaign. He told supporters that the country was moving forward “because of you.”

“You reaffirmed the spirit that has triumphed over war and depression, the spirit that has lifted this country from the depths of despair to the great heights of hope,” he said, “the belief that while each of us will pursue our own individual dreams, we are an America family, and we rise or fall together as one nation and one people.”

“I have never been more hopeful about America. And I ask you to sustain that hope,” Obama said.

At 7.8 per cent, the jobless rate stands a tick up from when Obama took office amid the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.

Remarkably, his coalition of Hispanic, black, and young voters turned out in similar numbers to those of his heady change-fueled campaign in 2008, shocking Romney’s team and presenting a new American face to the world.

In a show of bipartisanship after a searing campaign, the president said he wanted to meet his vanquished foe to find common ground to move America forward.

The president will face a tough task enacting his second term agenda after Republicans, who thwarted him repeatedly in his first mandate, retained control of the House of Representatives.

Democrats kept the Senate but fell short of the 60-vote super majority needed to sidestep minority blocking tactics.

Despite his resounding victory, diehard Republicans were already challenging Obama’s mandate, pointing to his slim lead in the national popular vote where he led Romney by 50 per cent to 49 per cent.

“I think the real story here is that Obama won, but he’s got no mandate,” leading conservative commentator Charles Krauthammer declared on Fox News.

“The Republicans are in control of the House, probably a little bit stronger. They are not going to budge. There’s no way after holding out on Obama for two years they’re going to cave in, and Obama doesn’t have anywhere really to go.”

Republican House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner drew a line in the sand on Tuesday night even before Obama’s win was sealed.

“The American people want solutions — and tonight they’ve responded by renewing our House Republican majority,” Boehner said. “With this vote, the American people have also made clear that there is no mandate for raising tax rates.”

But Boehner did schedule a statement for Wednesday afternoon on the “fiscal cliff” acknowledging “the need for both parties to find common ground.”

Agencies
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