US & Canada

Barack Obama heads to White House as fiscal cliff looms

President Barack Obama waves as he exits Air Force One, 7 November 2012
Image caption Obama and his family flew back into the Washington area aboard Air Force One

Barack Obama has returned to Washington focused on broaching an impasse with Republicans over the deficit reduction deal needed to avoid a fiscal crisis.

The newly reelected US president faces a fiscal "cliff" of spending cuts and tax rises unless agreement is reached.

The Republicans retained control of the House of Representatives on Tuesday, but failed to take the Senate.

House Speaker John Boehner hinted at the possibility of a compromise if the president agreed to tax reform.

Mr Boehner, who negotiated with Mr Obama over a so-called "grand bargain" of spending cuts and new revenues in 2011, said he would accept new revenue-raising as part of a tax-reform deal.

Even before he flew with his family from their Chicago base to Andrews Air Force Base in Washington on Wednesday evening, Mr Obama had phoned the House speaker to emphasise the need to reach a budget compromise when Congress returns next week.

Time is tight: Bush-era tax cuts are due to expire at the end of 2012, and automatic, mandatory, across-the-board cuts to military and domestic spending are also in the pipeline unless a deal can be reached.

Economists say the overall effect of failing to reach a compromise could tip the US into recession.

Pledge for bipartisanship

In his first public remarks since the election, Mr Boehner said Republicans in the House of Representatives stood ready to work with the president on avoiding the fiscal cliff.

He said Republicans - previously strongly opposed to any new tax-related revenue - would be willing to compromise as long as the tax code was reformed and accompanied by changes to benefit programmes.

"Mr President, this is your moment. We're ready to be led, not as Democrats or Republicans, but as Americans," Mr Boehner said. "We want you to succeed."

Mr Obama's prospects for his second term will hinge on his relationship with Mr Boehner and congressional Republicans.

Vice-President Joe Biden told reporters aboard Air Force Two that there was much work to be done.

"We're really anxious to get moving on, first of all, dealing with the first things first, this fiscal cliff. I think we can do it," Mr Biden said.

But he added that negotiations would depend on co-operation from their Republican colleagues.

Reacting to Mr Obama's win, Mitch McConnell, the Republican minority leader in the Senate, said voters had not endorsed "the failures or excesses of the president's first term", but had given him "more time to finish the job" by working with Congress.

In his acceptance speech at his Chicago campaign headquarters on Tuesday night, Mr Obama also pledged to consult his campaign rival Mitt Romney and explore ways to work together.

When the Republican conceded victory with a brief speech in Boston shortly after midnight on Wednesday, Mr Romney urged both parties to "put the people before politics".

In the state-by-state election battle, Mr Obama has so far won 303 electoral college votes to Mr Romney's 206 (with 270 required for victory).

In Florida, a state with 29 electoral votes, absentee ballots are still being counted and the race remains too close to call.

By Thursday morning, Mr Obama had 49.9% of the statewide vote against Mr Romney's 49.3%, with barely 47,000 votes separating them, reported the Florida Division of Elections. A result is expected by Saturday.

Officials cited the unexpectedly high number of absentee ballots as well as the length of the ballots - which included 11 proposed state constitutional amendments - as the reason for the delays in both voting and counting votes.

Steering recovery

Mr Obama was re-elected with the highest unemployment rate - at 7.9% - for any incumbent president since the US wartime leader Franklin Roosevelt.

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The fragile economy was rated the top issue by about six out of 10 voters in Tuesday's exit polls. But most of them blamed former President George W Bush for the downturn.

Preliminary figures suggest fewer people voted than four years ago.

More than 117 million people participated, compared to record-breaking figures of 131 million four years ago.

Turnout was down sharply in some states, including Texas, as well as states on the US East Coast that were hit hard by superstorm Sandy.

In addition to the presidential and congressional races, Americans voted on a number of state-wide legal issues.

  • Referendums in Maine, Maryland and Washington state approved same-sex marriage, while a measure in Minnesota to block gay unions failed
  • Colorado and Washington state voted to legalise recreational use of marijuana
  • California voters rejected a proposal to abolish the death penalty
  • In a referendum, Puerto Ricans voted in favour of becoming the 51st US state, if Congress approves the move.