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Experts Predict Partisan Clashes in New US Congress

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Most political analysts agree that the current Congress has been one of the most productive over the past century. But many experts fear the new Congress coming to Washington in January will wage even more partisan battles, making it difficult for lawmakers to tackle pressing issues facing the United States.


Nancy Pelosi, the outgoing Speaker of the House, lit the Capitol Christmas tree, as the current Congress prepared to leave for the holidays.

Democrats lost their majority in the House in November's elections, and that means Republican Congressman John Boehner will likely replace her as the new speaker.

Democrats held on to a slim majority in the Senate, so there will be a divided government.

Political experts agree that the outgoing Congress will go down in history as one of the most productive.

"This Congress, vilified by Americans in a broad way, most of them believing that nothing has been done, some believing that whatever was done was bad, but it ranks at least with the 89th Congress of the Great Society of Lyndon Johnson," said Norman Ornstein is with the conservative American Enterprise Institute.

The achievements include sweeping health care reform and a major reform of financial institutions.  

Ornstein says voters punished Democrats because of continued high unemployment.

On the Republican side, they chose a number of Tea Party candidates, who advocate tax and spending cuts and a limited role for government.

Incoming Republican Congressman Tim Scott is one of them. He says this freshmen class of legislators will force change. "I mean there is no doubt that when we show up with a class of 83 people, one third of the Republican conference, we have an opportunity to have a significant impact fairly quickly," he said.

Ornstein says with moderate Democrats and Republicans replaced by strident new members, the climate in Washington will likely be even more polarized. "We've had plenty of times when we have had enormous tension, with the impeachment of President Nixon. We had the impeachment of President Clinton, we had the Vietnam War, we had the Iran-Contra investigation, periods when the two parties had an enormously high level of tension. But this is simply worse," he said.

David Hawkings of Congressional Quarterly says the new Republican-led House will be able to antagonize the president. "They have subpoena power, they can conduct a lot of investigations, they can have a lot of hearings where they call President Obama's aides and cabinet members to the Hill and poke at them and criticize them for the cameras," he said.

President Obama, by agreeing to extend tax cuts for all Americans including the wealthiest,  has shown he is willing to compromise with Republicans.

But he outraged members of his own party, who said the president sacrificed core Democratic principles.

In 2011, the president will likely have to walk a fine line to work with with a divided Congress.

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