Will election results mean more gridlock on budget, sequestration?

Wednesday - 11/7/2012, 5:03am EST

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In the end, the results of Tuesday's national election produced few surprises.

President Barack Obama won his re-election bid by defeating Republican challenger Mitt Romney. The makeup of the two houses of Congress remained virtually unchanged, with the Democrats maintaining a simple majority in the Senate and the Republicans staying firmly entrenched in the House of Representatives.

Robert Shea, former associate director of the Office of Management and Budget and a member of the Romney transition team, said for those following the polls leading up to the election, the outcome should come as no surprise.

"The polls were close," he said. "Most, I think, predicted this."

The 2012 election presented the American people with a stark choice between two philosophies, said Scott Lilly, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.

"They chose a path of moderation with President Obama," he said. "Unfortunately, I think they also made a decision with respect to the representatives they sent to the House of Representatives that we're going to continue to have a very divided government and a very unpleasant policy making environment. I think it's a mixed election and it really means a lot more of the same."

Sequestration on the horizon

President Obama's victory and the continuation of the status quo in the House and Senate indicate difficulties ahead as far as reaching resolution on some of the big issues awaiting lawmakers. The lame duck Congress faces sequestration — $1.2 trillion in automatic, across-the-board cuts scheduled to go into effect at the beginning of January.

"The Republican leadership in the House sent a warning just two days ago saying that if the President continues his policy on not allowing the Bush tax cuts on very high-end people to expire, there's going to be total warfare," Lilly said. "I interpret that to mean they're not going to go along with any kind of an agreement on sequestration. I think that we're still headed for a very uncertain result as we go over the cliff."

Shea was more optimistic about the possibility of progress when it comes to sequestration.

"I do think all indications are that we will punt, at least temporarily, on sequestration," Shea said. "That will buy us some time to produce a more lasting compromise." He expects the sequester to be pushed back six months. "That will buy us time for not a grand bargain, but a bargain."

The new Congress will also have to address agency appropriations bills for 2013. The current continuing resolution runs out in March.

Who will resolve the budget?

Since the Constitution places budgetary responsibility into the hands of Congress, Lilly said one should look there for an indication of progress or change.

"We have to look at who's been elected in the Congress," he said. "Frankly, I don't see much change there. I think we're going to continue to struggle primarily because of the extremely conservative bent that we have in the House of Representatives. The American people had a choice between two divergent views and they chose both of them. And the result of that is we're going to have a continued impasse on the budget."

Shea agreed there would be a difficult road ahead regarding the budget. "We've been at loggerheads," he said. "Unless some real leadership transpires, I think it's going to be tough to tackle a lot of the big issues that confront us. I'm looking for someone to step up, be an adult and bring some sense and reasonableness to the big issues that we need to decide."

As far as the impact of Obama's re-election on federal employees goes, Shea predicts only minor changes moving forward. "I think you''ll see modest, if any, changes to the management agenda, the degree to which federal employee issues are dealt with, I just don't see a lot of huge changes except at some of the senior policy positions," Shea said.

Shea said the second term of the Obama presidency would be one of greater compromise. "I think you'll see an approach to compromise that you hadn't seen in the past," he said. "The election, obviously, focused on our differences. I think now that the election is over we can focus on some of our common challenges and ways to resolve them that will hopefully bring about some important compromise."

(Federal News Radio's full coverage of Election 2012 can be found here.)

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