Obama foes take over US House
Washington - A tense era of political power-sharing dawned in Washington on Wednesday as a new US Congress convened with President Barack Obama's Republican foes in control of the House of Representatives.
Incoming Republican House Speaker John Boehner warned lawmakers they faced "great challenges" as his party prepared a freshly invigorated assault on Obama's agenda with an eye on thwarting his 2012 re-election bid.
The White House's foes also enjoyed a stronger Senate minority thanks to a pack of new conservative members who won office on November 2 when voters angry at the sputtering US economy and high unemployment routed Democrats.
"We gather here today (on Wednesday) at a time of great challenges," Boehner, Democrat Nancy Pelosi's replacement, said in excerpts of his inaugural speech.
"Hard work and tough decisions will be required."
Republicans have vowed to slash spending, scrap "job-killing" government regulations, overhaul the tax code, crack down on undocumented immigration, cut diplomatic and foreign aid funds and investigate the administration.
And they have already scheduled a January 12 vote on repealing Obama's signature overhaul of US health care - a purely symbolic step because the Democratic Senate majority can block it and the president can veto it.
But the move represents an effort by Boehner, a two-decade veteran of Washington politics, to please the arch-conservative "Tea Party" activists who fuelled big Republican gains and view the legislation as Washington overreach.
"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 carrying out their instructions," Boehner, 61, said in remarks released by his office.
Senate Democrats, captained by Majority Leader Harry Reid, planned to push ahead with rules changes that make it harder for the minority party to kill legislation by delaying it or anonymously block key nominees.
And they warned Republicans would have to break their lockstep opposition to White House-backed initiatives over the past two years in favour of bipartisan compromise in order to deliver on their campaign pledges.
"The American people want common-sense solutions to help middle-class Americans make ends meet, not extremist political stunts," Reid spokesperson Jon Summers said on Tuesday.
Incoming Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, meanwhile, shrugged off the warning, saying: "The Senate can serve as a cul-de-sac if that's what it wants to be, but they'll have to answer to the American people."
Republicans aimed to set the tone ahead of Obama's annual "State of the Union" speech due in late January, a high-profile chance to retool his presidency in the wake of what he has called a ballot-box "shellacking."
Cantor said he hoped Obama would unveil proposals to cut spending and major reform of the US tax code, calling those "opportunities for us to work together."
As he headed back to Washington after a year-end vacation, Obama said he expected the normal rough-and-tumble of politics to resume with Republicans playing to their conservative base, but warned American voters expected action.