The Republican party is poised for head-to-head clashes with President Barack Obama as it takes charge of the US House of Representatives, promising an era of smaller government and less spending.
Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi turns over her speaker’s gavel to Rep John Boehner, who plans to quickly stage a vote to repeal Mr Obama’s health care overhaul, fulfilling promises the party made in the November election that put it back in control of the US Congress’ lower house.
While the measure was likely to pass by a sizeable margin, Democrats still control the Senate, where the repeal is expected to die.
Renewed action on health care – passage in the House, quiet death in the Senate – could serve as a template for legislative gridlock in the final two years of Mr Obama’s term.
But with the country still mired in a wobbly economic recovery and battered by near 10% unemployment, Mr Obama said he was counting on Republicans’ hot ideological positions to cool as the congressional session moved forward.
“I’m pretty confident that they’re going to recognise that our job is to govern and make sure that we are delivering jobs for the American people and that we are creating a competitive economy for the 21st century,” Mr Obama said on his return flight from a two-week holiday in Hawaii.
He said the two sides could build on the final session of the previous congress late last year, when they agreed on a compromise to prevent income taxes from rising, extend unemployment benefits and enact a social security tax cut that took effect on Saturday.
Perhaps coincidentally, Mr Obama’s job approval rating has climbed to 50% according to the latest Gallup Poll tracking survey. The president’s approval number had been in the mid-40s for most of the last six months and he was last at the 50% mark in late spring.
Many politicians believe Americans are hungering for a more bi-partisan political climate.
For her part, however, Ms Pelosi was still stoking the partisan fires as she prepared to vacate the speaker’s office after six years. The first woman to hold the speaker’s job said Democrats would be willing to work with Republicans when they presented “positive solutions”. But in nearly the same breath she called Republicans hypocrites for moving against health care.