Obama has little time to savour triumph
Fresh from a decisive re-election win, President Barack Obama returns from the campaign trail today with little time to savor victory, facing urgent economic challenges, a looming fiscal showdown and a still-divided Congress able to block his every move.
In the cold light of the 2012 election's morning-after, it was clear that even though voters have endorsed a second Obama term, the president will have a hard time translating that into a mandate to push forward with his agenda.
Americans chose to preserve the status quo of divided government in Washington. Mr Obama's fellow Democrats retained control of the Senate and Republicans kept their majority in the House of Representatives, giving them power to curb the president's legislative ambitions on everything from taxes to immigration reform.
This is the political reality that mr Obama - who won a far narrower victory over Mr Romney than his historic election as the country's first black president in 2008 - faces when he returns to Washington later today.
But that did not stop him from basking in the glow of re-election together with thousands of elated supporters in his hometown of Chicago early today/
"You voted for action, not politics as usual," Mr Obama said, calling for compromise and pledging to work with leaders of both parties to reduce the deficit, to reform the tax code and immigration laws, and to cut dependence on foreign oil.
He told the crowd he hoped to sit down with Mr Romney in the coming weeks and examine ways to meet the challenges ahead -though the president may be more in need of mending fences with Republican congressional leaders who wield clout in Washington.
The problems that dogged Mr Obama in his first term, which cast a long shadow over his 2008 campaign message of hope and change, still confront him. He must tackle the $1 trillion annual deficits, rein in the $16 trillion national debt, overhaul expensive social programs and deal with the split Congress.
The immediate focus for Mr Obama and US lawmakers will be to deal with the "fiscal cliff," a mix of tax increases and spending cuts due to extract some $600 billion from the economy at the end of the year barring a deal with Congress. Economists warn it could push the United States back into recession.
House Majority Leader John Boehner moved swiftly on the fiscal cliff issue, saying he would issue a statement on it on Wednesday, citing "the need for both parties to find common ground and take steps together to help our economy grow and create jobs, which is critical to solving our debt."
Concern about US fiscal problems after Mr Obama's re-election contributed to a decline in global financial markets. World shares turned lower and Wall Street stocks, which had been expected to rise on relief over the clear election outcome, opened lower partly due to fears over economic weakness in Europe.
Mr Obama also faces international challenges like the West's nuclear standoff with Iran, the civil war in Syria, the winding down of the war in Afghanistan and dealing with an increasingly assertive China.