Two early showdowns on spending and debt will signal whether the new Congress can find common ground despite its partisan divisions or whether it’s destined for gridlock and brinkmanship that could threaten the nation’s economic health.
Not all of the bickering in the 112th Congress that convenes Wednesday will be between Republicans and Democrats. House Republicans, back in power after four years in the minority, will include numerous freshmen whose unyielding stands on the deficit, in particular, could severely test soon-to-be Speaker John Boehner’s ability to bridge differences and pass major bills.
His first big challenge will come in February, when Congress must pass a huge spending bill to keep the government running. Many House Republicans — veterans and newcomers alike — have pledged to cut discretionary domestic spending by up to $100 billion.
Even if they agree on a plan, it probably will be changed by the Senate, where Democrats will hold 53-47 edge. And President Barack Obama can veto almost any bill he opposes during the next two years.