Washington after the election

Nationally, after more than a year of campaigning, perpetual 24-hour news coverage of every political step and misstep, and a level of spending on political advertisements that shattered all previous records, not much changed Tuesday. The incumbent president was returned to office, Republicans remained in control of the House and Democrats of the Senate.

Voters returned President Obama to office with a solid electoral victory and narrow edge in the popular vote. With the exception of North Carolina, the incumbent Democrat took every "swing state" in his victory over Republican Mitt Romney.

The irony is that while voters, in their collective wisdom, kept the status quo, exit polls and interviews showed they do not want to continue what that status quo has thus far produced — gridlock on the major issues confronting the country.

There are reasons to anticipate things may change despite the lack of change. For his part, President Obama in a second term has a legacy to think about. If he wants to slow the growth of the deficit before it becomes a crisis, continue and enhance the economic recovery, and find a road to genuine immigration reform, he must find a way to work with Republicans.

As for Republicans in Congress, perhaps they will learn that blocking most every initiative coming from the White House does not win over voters. The goal can no longer be to deny President Obama policy victories and, in the process, re-election. He won and will not be running again. If they really want to get serious about cutting deficit spending, Republicans have to abandon the no-tax-increase-ever nonsense. It is the only way to win genuine concessions from the White House and Senate Democrats on cost cutting and making the changes necessary to assure the long-term viability of entitlement programs.

Republicans should realize by now that their anti-immigrant image is killing the party as the number of Latino and other minority groups continues to grow and the share of the electorate made up of white Americans continues to shrink. The best way the GOP can neutralize the immigration issue before the next election is to reach a compromise on an immigration reform plan with the Democrats, one that includes a path to citizenship for those who came here illegally but are otherwise law-abiding residents.

Unfortunately, there are plenty of reasons for pessimism. About $6 billion was spent on this election. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, nonprofits and Super PACs will have spent about $850 million, with 70 percent coming from conservative groups. Powerful interests do not spend that kind of money without expecting something in return and, regrettably, compromising is probably not what they had in mind.

Also much of the Republican "tea party" class elected to the House in 2010 returns and those members remain further to the right on fiscal issues than the party generally. The 2010 GOP class has been resistant to efforts by the leadership to strike deals that lack ideological purity.

As for President Obama, he has to quickly leave the partisan attacks of the campaign behind. Based on his acceptance speech early Wednesday morning, it appears he is ready to do that. If he mistakes a win for mandate, partisan walls could grow higher.

The first test will be to avert going off the "fiscal cliff," the combination of tax increases and steep budget cuts that will take effect at the end of the year and could pitch the economy into recession. Dealing with it will require, at the least, building a bridge to the new Congress, which must then compromise on tax and spending policies. The results of that debate will indicate whether any thing has changed in Washington.


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