There is little doubt that fiscal issues are at the forefront, though, as they have been since the economy cratered more than four years ago. The issue dominated the just-ended Congress from beginning to end as tea party-backed lawmakers pressed relentlessly to cut spending and reduce deficits.
They met with decidedly mixed success.
They won Obama's signature on $1 trillion in cuts over a decade after using the debt limit as leverage, but were forced into a humiliating surrender a year ago after trying to block an extension in payroll tax cuts. And in the last major act of the 112th Congress, they were forced to swallow legislation that contained next-to-no spending cuts, raised tax rates on the wealthy while keeping them even for the middle class and boosted deficits by an estimated $4 trillion over a decade.
And now, the newly enfranchised Congress will begin by raising deficits. National flood insurance legislation to help victims of Hurricane Sandy will create slightly more than $9 billion in red ink if it passes as expected on Friday. A follow-up disaster aid measure that Boehner has said will be brought to a vote on Jan. 15 would add $27 billion — more if the bill grows, as seems likely, after it is reconciled with a $60-billion Senate version.
The next big clash is expected to begin within weeks. A two-month delay in automatic spending cuts expires at the end of February. As well, the administration will seek authority to borrow more money in late winter or early spring, and financing expires for most government agencies on March 27.
Republicans have said they intend to seek significant savings from Medicare, Medicaid and other government benefit programs to gain control over spending. Obama has said he won't bargain over the government's borrowing authority. He has also said is open to changes in benefit programs, but would face resistance on that from liberal Democrats.
Boehner will lead a House that has a Republican majority of 233-200, with two vacancies, a loss of eight seats for the GOP. Fourteen Republicans declined to vote for him, a reflection of their unhappiness with his leadership, but several more defections would have been needed to deny him a first-ballot victory. It's not unusual for party leaders to lose the votes of some dissidents. Nineteen Democrats declined to support their leader, Nancy Pelosi, on a similar ballot two years ago after her party lost more than 60 seats in the 2010 election.
Democrats hold a 55-45 majority in the Senate, and control two more seats than they did the past two years.
Reid and McConnell are negotiating over possible changes in the Senate's filibuster rules to make the movement of legislation more efficient, even when it is hotly contested.
Associated Press writers Donna Cassata, Andrew Taylor and Henry C. Jackson contributed to this story.