US President Barack Obama, joined by First Lady Michelle Obama and their daughters Sasha and Malia, heads for Air Force One at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport on Wednesday. They were bound for Washington the day after Obama was re-elected.Photo: AFP
President Barack Obama has returned to the White House emboldened by his stunning re-election and challenging his Republican opponents to work with him to avert a looming financial crisis.
The liberal euphoria that greeted Obama's landmark election victory over Mitt Romney was short-lived as he immediately set about the daunting task of breaking down partisan gridlock in a bitterly divided Congress.
Before leaving Chicago, Obama was already on the phone trying to bridge the gap with Republican leaders to avoid a potentially catastrophic "fiscal cliff" that could plunge the fragile US economy back into recession.
A combination of dramatic spending cuts and tax increases will take effect on January 1 without a deal on reducing the ballooning budget deficit, with Democrats and Republicans in Congress locked in a who-blinks-first standoff.
Obama spoke to Republican House Speaker John Boehner and also telephoned the minority Republican leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, as well as top Democrats.
"The president reiterated his commitment to finding bipartisan solutions to: reduce our deficit in a balanced way, cut taxes for middle class families and small businesses and create jobs," a White House official said.
Later at the Capitol, Boehner publicly responded before assembled reporters with his most explicit and conciliatory offer to date on Republicans' willingness to raise tax revenues, but not top rates, together with a spending cut package.
"We're ready to be led -- not as Democrats or Republicans, but as Americans. We want you to lead, not as a liberal or a conservative, but as president of the United States of America," said Boehner, a day after Congressional Republicans suffered election losses but kept their House majority.
His statement came a few hours after Senator Harry Reid, leader of a Democratic Senate majority that made unexpected gains, extended his own olive branch to the opposition. While saying that Democrats would not be pushed around, Reid, a former boxer, added, "It's better to dance than to fight."
Democrats kept the Senate in Tuesday's vote but fell short of the 60-vote super-majority needed to sidestep Republican blocking tactics.
Obama's first-term plans were thwarted by blanket Republican opposition, whether it be comprehensive immigration reform, education, or a grand plan to rein in the troublesome deficit.
Obama's victory means he will get the chance to embed his healthcare and Wall Street reforms deep into the fabric of American life. Romney had pledged one of his first acts would be to repeal Obamacare.
The president may also get the chance to reshape the Supreme Court in his liberal image for a generation, a move that would shape policy on issues like abortion and gay rights.
Obama will also look abroad as he builds his legacy, and will face an immediate challenge early in 2013 over whether to use military force to thwart Iran's nuclear program.
He will study lists of candidates for various positions that a senior adviser, Pete Rouse, assembled in recent weeks as Obama crisscrossed the country campaigning.
The most prominent members of his cabinet will leave soon. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy F Geithner long ago said they would depart after the first term.
Defence Secretary Leon E Panetta, previously the head of the Central Intelligence Agency, has signalled that he wants to return to California in the coming year. Also expected to depart is David Plouffe, one of the president's closest confidants.
Obama is expected to reshuffle both his inner circle and his economic team as he accommodates the changes.
The president ran for re-election on a platform of offering a "fair shot" to the middle class, of fulfilling his pledge to end the war in Iraq, killing Osama bin Laden, and starting to build a clean energy economy.
With Florida still totalling up the last remaining ballots after another embarrassing vote-counting debacle in the "Sunshine State," Obama had 303 electoral college votes, easily surpassing the 270 needed to win.
OBAMA CALLS CLINTON
The president put in a call to Bill Clinton, his relentless surrogate over the last five months, after he spoke with Mitt Romney early this morning, reports say.
That Obama owes Clinton a huge debt of gratitude is clear, and will be an enduring part of the story of 2012.
Clinton was not among those Obama mentioned in his acceptance speech.
Compiled from reports of AFP, New York Times, Washington Post, Politico, and Reuters