This week, the 112th session of Congress - with a new Republican majority that can easily block Democratic initiatives - convened in Washington, DC. Republicans have already said they will make life diffcult for Obama.
John Boehner of Ohio was sworn in as House Speaker
US House of Representatives Chaplain Daniel Coughlin opened the first session of the 112th Congress on Wednesday with a prayer. The legislative body should be an instrument of a greater good, he said, following the law instead of public opinion for the greater good of the people.
"Lord may the 112th Congress of the United States of America be an instrument of your goodness with abiding laws embraced, and clarity in policy statements reaching beyond institutional thinking and public opinion polls," he intoned. "May every human life in this country be renewed with dignity and purpose so we may truly be the glory given to your name as the free children of God made in your image."
There's been a major power shift on Capitol Hill
But matters moved quickly from the divine to the worldly as the 434 Congressmen and women voted on the new Speaker of the House. The vote was, essentially, a formality. After Republicans won 63 seats and a majority in the last congressional elections, it was clear that the speaker would be 61-year-old Ohio Congressman John Boehner, who has been in the House for 20 years.
Boehner calls for 'end to business as usual'
Boehner had already said that the new Congress faced "hard work and tough decisions." In his speech accepting the job as speaker he urged the 112th Congress to gear up for a difficult task ahead.
"No longer can we fall short. No longer can we kick the can down the road. The people voted to end business as usual, and today, we begin to carry out their instructions," he said.
The Republicans see their overwhelming victory in the US midterm elections as a mandate to repeal many of the refoms of the last Congress - especially in health care. Indeed, a vote is expected on this within the next few weeks - although it is likely to be more symbolic than anything else.
Procedural changes - and a reading of the Constitution
That's because any new laws will need to be passed by the Senate, or upper House of Representatives, where the Democrats continue to have a majority. And in the end, US President Obama has the power to veto legislation.
Nonetheless, the Republicans are now holding the reins in the lower house, and on the first day, they made several procedural changes; these make it easier to cut state spending and to reduce taxes - two priorities of the conservative legislators.
Obama will find it more difficult to get his legislation passed
"We're going to cut spending and job-killing government regulations, and grow the economy and private sector jobs," said Congressman Eric Cantor, who is now the House Majority Leader.
In an unusual move, the Republicans have also said they will be reading the US Constitution - the basic document of US law - aloud on the floor of the House. In general, the Republicans have made strict adherence to the Constitution a key tenet of their efforts to reduce the size and impact of government. But the theatrical action is generally seen as a bone thrown at the ultra-conservative wing of the Republicans, the Tea Party.
At the end of the 2010, US President Obama was able to pass a few legislative initiatives, but now, having lost the Democratic majority in Congress, these legislative successes will be more difficult to achieve. For example, upcoming votes on immigration and energy policy reform are less likely to go the president's way. And ultimately, if Democrats and Republicans are unable to compromise, legislative stasis could be the watchword for the second term of Obama's presidency.
Shuffling the deck
Indeed, on Wednesday, Obama's Press Secretary Robert Gibbs warned that the coming two years would be different than the first two years of the Obama White House, and the new legislative period will see changes in personnel in the White House as well.
For one thing, Gibbs himself has announced he would step down next month. Also, the president's senior advisor David Axelrod said he would step down to focus on the 2012 campaign, and Paul Volcker, ex-Federal Reserve chairman, is resigning as chief economic advisor. Also, rumors are already swirling about the replacement for Larry Summers, director of President Obama's National Economic Council.
Author: Christina Bergmann (jen)
Editor: Rob Mudge