ONCE the post-election euphoria has died down, the re-elected US President faces an Oval Office in-tray piled high with domestic and foreign problems.

Barack Obama will be no different from predecessors such as George W Bush who have won second-terms. They have traditionally found it hard to progress their policies, minded as they are about securing their legacy with opponents determined to thwart them.

His aim will be to enshrine Obamacare, his expansion of public health provision, squeeze the pips of the wealthiest with higher taxes to help pay down the spiralling $16 trillion national debt and strike a deal with Congress on cutting the $1 trillion annual deficit.

Loading article content

The President will seek to fulfil his promise of withdrawing combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, deal with the nuclear threat posed by Iran in light of Israel's threat of a military strike, and sort out the civil war in Syria before it conflagrates the wider Middle East.

So the honeymoon, if there is one, will be short-lived.

While Mr Obama saw off his Republican challenger Mitt Romney for the White House, the opposition will still pose him a mighty problem as the Republicans retained the House of Representatives; the Democrats did the same for the Senate.

Despite the President's assertion at his victory rally, "You voted for action, not politics as usual", the legislative gridlock that hampered his first term looks set to repeat itself for his second.

Ethan Siegel, an analyst who tracks Washington politics for institutional investors, noted how the split Congress meant the political dynamic had not changed. He said: "That means the same people who couldn't figure out how to cut deals for the past three years."

Indeed, a spirit of co-operation and consensus did not appear to be on display when Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, made clear he was not willing to concede his Conservative principles.

He said: "The voters have not endorsed the failures or excesses of the President's first term, they have simply given him more time to finish the job they asked him to do together with a Congress that restored balance to Washington after two years of one-party control."

Over at the House of Representatives, John Boehner, the Republican leader, warned: "With this vote the American people have also made clear that there is no mandate for raising tax rates."

So the burden will be on the President's artistic abilities to find political compromise, not simply to demand it from the other side.

The battle with Congress will be over areas such as expanding welfare programmes such as Medicare and social security, dealing with the defence budget and the income tax system.

The first major test comes in the form of the so-called fiscal cliff, $600 billion of tax hikes and spending cuts that are due to come in on January 1 unless action is taken and could, as Mr Obama takes the oath of Capitol Hill, plunge his country's fragile economy into recession.

One hopeful sign was that Mr Boehner moved swiftly yesterday, saying there was a "need for both parties to find common ground and take steps together to help our economy grow and create jobs, which is critical to solving our debt".

In many ways, Mr Obama should never have won the 2012 election given the state of the nation's finances.

The fact he did shows enough Americans bought the argument that the economic crisis was not of his making but was instead global, and they trusted him to have more time to try to sort it out.

Thus, the Chicago politician won with the highest unemployment rate – at 7.9% – for any incumbent since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

He won even though voters made it clear they were worse off than they were in the 2008 year of hope and that they believed Mr Romney would be the better choice to end stalemate in Washington.

Exit polls indicated that voters viewed the incumbent as the voice of the poor and the middle class while the challenger favoured the rich.

Mr Obama will try to halt what many feel is America's declining influence by continuing to seek multinational partnerships, particularly in the Middle East and on issues such as Syria's civil war and on China.

America's lack of relationship with Iran poses one of the biggest problems, especially with Israel threatening a military strike against Tehran's nuclear ambitions.

Yet is it the economy, of course, which will determine whether the President's second term is a success or failure and what will be his legacy.

Recent jobs figures have been encouraging and consumer confidence appears to be picking up but growth, at 2%, remains sluggish; the housing market is still troubled; and the eurozone crisis continues to pull down international trade.

Norman Ornstein, a leading Congressional scholar who co-wrote the book It's Even Worse Than It Looks – How The American Constitutional System Collided With The New Politics Of Extremism, said: "There is no real prospect that this election is going to lance the boils, break the fever, bring us back to bipartisan policymaking.

"We're in for a long slog."