Obama Wins and Republicans Keep Congress: How Divided Government is an Opportunity for All


The election is over. President Obama has been re-elected. The Republicans retained control of the House and the Democrats control of the Senate. The margins of control are about the same and no one can say the president won a resounding victory. But by maintaining the status quo, did the voters actually send a mandate to Congress?

In his acceptance speech last night, the president said all the right words. He is looking forward to meeting with former Governor Romney to see how they can work together. Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) can no longer hold to his goal of making Obama a one-term president. Speaker of the House, John Boehner (R-Ohio) said the results show a mandate for all sides to work together. So where do we go from here?

Whether the words spoken were sincere will be apparent next week when the Congress convenes the lame duck session. With the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, there is very little time to address the fiscal cliff. Given this time factor, there will most likely be a short-term fix. What will be critical is the tone of debate and if a path for a permanent fix to be worked on when the 113th Congress meets in January is agreed to. Without such a framework, the sincerity of the words is questionable.

The lame duck session will simply kick the can down the road without a clear path for further discussion. While a serious road block, is not the end of the road. I’ve written previously about small groups working together to advance bipartisan solutions. These groups are still active. In addition to the Make Congress and Make the Presidency Work Action Plans, No Labels will announce a major initiative on January 14, a Problem Solvers group consisting of representatives and senators from both parties committed to working across the aisle. Currently there are at least 20 members of this group, and the list is growing.  

Just looking at the numbers, President Obama did not receive a mandate. Neither party received a mandate, as control of Congress remains split. Going beyond the numbers, however, Speaker Boehner may be right. The voters sent a clear mandate by maintaining what was in place. Instead of giving up, voters want Congress to get to work, stop the bickering, and solve the serious problems facing this country. Do members of Congress understand this? We’ll find out very shortly.