Barack Obama clinched the race for the White House Tuesday, but that fight pales in comparison to the issues the president has in front of him over the next four years. Here's a rundown of key issues facing the country's next commander in chief:
Gridlock in Congress. A deeply divided and partisan Congress has been a fixture of U.S. government over the past two years, and gridlock between the parties has helped stall legislation and strip the country of it's AAA credit rating.
"The first thing the president has to do is reach out to Congress," says Dan Glickman, senior fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank. "He needs to energetically engage Congress—this has to be done instantaneously and there has to be a continuation and maintenance of that effort."
Emphasizing the need to "work together" would not only help the country tackle important domestic issues—the fiscal cliff, the stalled Farm Bill, tax code uncertainty—it would send important signals to the international community.
The debt ceiling, fiscal cliff, and sequestration. The United States will likely hit the debt ceiling by the end of the year according to the Treasury Department, around the same time a deeply divided Congress will be dealing with the fiscal cliff and the combination of automatic tax hikes and massive government spending cuts, scheduled to kick in Jan. 1.
"It adds to the cauldron of the dark brew," Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics, said of the fast-approaching debt limit to the Los Angeles Times. "That makes the disaster more disastrous."
While the fate of the debt ceiling is largely in the hands of Congress, there's a lot at stake if an agreement between lawmakers and the White House can't be reached. Economists and the Congressional Budget Office predict another recession in 2013 if the country goes over the fiscal cliff. Also, getting this close to the debt ceiling without resolving gridlock could lead to another credit rating downgrade, potentially increasing the nation's borrowing costs.
Iran (and the Middle East). Crippling sanctions have led to a dramatic reduction in Iran's oil production and sales, which has put a stranglehold on the country's economy. Inflation is also raging as the value of Iran's currency has fallen, and doing business internationally has been rendered nearly impossible. Still, Iranian leadership has forged ahead with enriching uranium.
Unless Iran's leaders suddenly decide to stop the country's ongoing nuclear program, preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons is going to be a top priority for the next U.S. president and the international community.
President Barack Obama has pledged to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, and according to Dennis Ross of the Washington Institute, his administration will likely accelerate both economic sanctions and the diplomatic efforts before resorting to force.
"If there is to be a diplomatic way out of the conflict with the Iranians over their nuclear program, sharpening the choice for Iran's leaders may also be the only way to produce it," Ross wrote in a recent post.
Increasing pressure on Iran through more severe sanctions is probable, as is underscoring the time for diplomacy is running out and all options—including the use of force—remain on the table.
But the Obama administration's work doesn't end there. The entire region will likely stay in the news over the next several months due to the massive political instability in the region.
"The reality is that all of these things are really connected and kind of like dominoes," says Jim Carafano, a leading defense and homeland security expert who directs The Heritage Foundation's Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies. "You've really got this tower of cards that runs from Tehran to Syria to Mali that could potentially impact the world."