"Together," he said, "there is much we can achieve."

A day after the celebrations, black-tie balls and lofty rhetoric, the president and Congress will return once more to the nitty-gritty of budget negotiations. The nation will hit its $16.4 trillion debt ceiling by mid-February and will face $1.2 trillion in automatic, across-the-board spending cuts unless lawmakers act.

Despite the approaching deadline, Obama's second inaugural seemed to take on a more celebratory feel than the first, which occurred as the economy was still in free fall. Two former Democratic presidents, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, shared a stage with singers Kelly Clarkson and Beyonce, both of whom performed. The Mall roared with chants of "O-BAM-A" as the president and his family arrived.

And when it was over, a still-hot microphone and C-SPAN camera caught the president as he turned on his heels to look back at the crowd before retreating into the Capitol.

"I want to take a look one more time," he said as he stared out over the Mall back toward the White House. "I'm not going to see this again."

While pundits say the start of the second Obama administration isn't likely to change Washington, Sen. Ben Cardin said he hopes it will have some small effect when lawmakers return to Capitol Hill after a brief recess to begin work on the next fiscal crisis.

How much Obama can achieve in his second term may depend on how — and how quickly — Democrats and Republicans deal with those issues.

"Inaugurations are a beginning," the Maryland Democrat said. "I do hold out hope that we're now at the beginning of a new chapter of politics that will be seized upon by all."

But, Cardin quickly added, "it's not going to be easy."

john.fritze@baltsun.com

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