Republicans roared to victory in the November U.S. congressional elections by targeting President Barack Obama's fiscal policies and asking, "Where are the jobs?"
Once they take power from Obama's Democrats in the House of Representatives when the new Congress convenes on Jan. 5, they will be held accountable to answer this and other questions.
How will they keep their promise to cut federal spending and reduce the federal deficit? What will they do to pump new life into the sluggish economy still trying to recover from the worst recession since the Great Depression? Will they raise the federal debt limit or threaten a government default?
"The problem Republicans face is that they'll be held responsible, and it's virtually impossible to meet the demands of the American people," said Paul Sracic, a political scientist at Youngstown State University in Ohio.
"The big issue is the economy but no one is predicting a rapid drop in the (U.S.) jobless rate," now at a stubbornly high 9.8 percent, Sracic said.
Republicans campaigned on promises to curb federal regulations, freeze the non-security federal workforce and reduce federal spending to 2008 levels, with exceptions for the elderly, the U.S. military and veterans. It is unclear whether any of these, even if enacted, would create any jobs in the short-run though.
Already sounding defensive, Republicans point out that they are not solely in charge, giving them limited power to turn the economy around.
"We will bring legislation to the House that is pro-growth legislation. But last I looked, Barack Obama was still president; last I looked, (Democrat) Harry Reid was still Senate majority leader. As we all know, our ability to actually pass laws is going to be somewhat constrained," said Jeb Hensarling, a conservative member of the House Republican leadership.
With the conservative Tea Party movement helping fan anti-establishment fire, scores of Democrats were thrown out of Congress in November. Voters gave Republicans a strong majority in the House and narrowed the Democrats' Senate majority to 53-47.
Still, a December Washington Post-ABC News poll showed Obama is trusted more than congressional Republicans — 43 percent to 38 percent — "to do a better job coping" with the nation's problems. That could help stiffen Democrats' resolve to block some Republican bills.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell has already drawn fire for saying his top objective is to deny Obama a second term.
As Republicans tried blocking major Obama initiatives in the final days of last year's Congress, McConnell quipped to news service Politico, "If they think it's bad now, wait till next year."
"There will be a lot of finger-pointing," said Larry Sabato, a political science professor at the University of Virginia. "The winner will be the best finger-pointer."
With their 242-193 majority, Republicans will have the votes to pass their entire campaign agenda through the House. Whether any of their efforts succeed in the Democratic-led Senate could depend on Obama's willingness to move to the political center to find common ground.
That's what he did in the weeks after the November election when he reached a $858 billion deal to extend expiring tax cuts for millions of Americans for two years — a high-stakes gamble to create jobs at a cost of deepening the U.S. debt.
Whether or not Republicans and Democrats reach agreement on economic policy in the coming year, there are some signs the U.S. economy is perking up. Government figures show consumer spending is up and new claims for jobless benefits are down.
According to a Reuters poll of economists released on Dec. 15, the economy in 2011 will register year-on-year growth of 2.7 percent, strengthening into the second half of the year.
Hensarling previewed where the next battles could be fought: "Making current tax rates permanent" and repealing Obama's healthcare law, which he argued is creating uncertainty in the business community and discouraging job growth.
Neither of these initiatives is seen as having much chance of passing Congress and some analysts question whether Republicans will seriously pursue either.
Other legislation that Hensarling said would create jobs: fundamental tax reform and dealing with long-term deficits — both topics that Obama also has been raising.
But within the Republican Party, there is some skepticism about whether Republican initiatives in Congress will actually translate into more American jobs.
Reuters asked Representative Mike Simpson, who is poised to head a powerful House Appropriations panel next year, which Republican initiatives will create jobs by the end of 2011.
"Good question. I'll have to think about that," he said, adding that he didn't just want to give a "routine" answer.
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