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01 December 2023

Fired-up Obama foes take over US House


President Barack Obama's Republican foes were to take control of the House on Wednesday and open a two-year joust for US political supremacy with an eye on defeating his 2012 bid for a second term.

Top Republicans have vowed to slash spending, scrap "job-killing" government regulations, overhaul the tax code, crack down on undocumented immigration, cut diplomatic and foreign aid funds, and investigate the administration.

They have already scheduled a January 12 vote on repealing Obama's signature overhaul of US health care -- a purely symbolic step because the Democratic Senate majority can block it and the president still holds the veto pen.

That vote will come exactly one week after a midday ceremony on Wednesday in which Democrat Nancy Pelosi will hand the Speaker's gavel she has held for four years to Republican John Boehner, whose party rode US voter anger at high joblessness to a rout in November elections.

"What the American people are really looking for are results," incoming Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor told a packed conference room of reporters as he laid out his party's aggressive political battle plan.

"Results are going to be judged through the prism of whether jobs are created and whether spending is cut and the deficit is brought back under control," said the Virginia lawmaker.

Cantor also shrugged off Democratic plans to use their Senate majority -- now just 53 of the 100 seats -- as a firewall to block legislation that Republicans muscle through the House of Representatives.

"The Senate can serve as a cul-de-sac if that's what it wants to be," Cantor said. "They'll have to answer to the American people."

Democrats have meanwhile argued that Americans want bipartisan cooperation to help pull the country out of its economic slump.

"The American people want common-sense solutions to help middle-class Americans make ends meet, not extremist political stunts," said Jon Summers, a spokesman for Senate Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Republicans aimed to set the tone ahead of Obama's annual "State of the Union" speech due the final week in January, a high-profile chance to retool his presidency in the wake of what he has called a ballot-box "shellacking."

Cantor said he hoped Obama would unveil proposals to cut spending -- notably eliminating "earmark" funding for lawmakers' pet projects -- and major reform of the US tax code, calling those "opportunities for us to work together."

As he headed back to Washington after a year-end Hawaii vacation, Obama said he expected the normal hurly-burly of politics to resume with Republicans playing to their conservative base, but warned American voters expected action.

"I'm pretty confident that they're going to recognize that our job is to govern and make sure that we are delivering jobs for the American people and that we're creating a competitive economy for the 21st century -- not just for this generation, but the next one," Obama told reporters.

He returned to Washington after scoring high-profile victories in a year-end session, including an end to a ban on gays serving openly in the military and ratification of a landmark nuclear arms control deal with Russia.

But speculation was also swirling about a rejigging of Obama's inner circle with Clinton-era commerce secretary and Chicago political veteran William Daley being tipped to serve as the new chief of staff.

Some observers said Obama would seek the political center, knowing that his 2012 reelection hopes may rest with independent voters who could be alienated if Republicans appease the radical right.

If he decides to pick Daley to serve as chief of staff Obama could make simultaneous gestures to the political center and to big business, with which the president has had strained ties in recent months.

Daley is currently working for finance giants JP Morgan & Chase and is a well-known free trade advocate, as well as being a member of a famed Chicago political dynasty.

Obama is also expected to soon name a new chief for his National Economic Council following the departure of Lawrence Summers last year. Former Clinton-era official Gene Sperling is seen as a possible replacement.

Several key Obama staffers, including his political guru David Axelrod, are expected to decamp to Chicago to launch a 2012 reelection campaign.

And David Plouffe, the political strategist who masterminded the vaunted state-by-state ground game in Obama's 2008 election triumph, will meanwhile start work at the White House after two years on the sidelines.