Working with a divided Congress

Wednesday night’s presidential debate is a huge news story because it could do much to decide who will win on Election Day. 

The first debate, which is focused on domestic policy, will likely tackle healthcare, taxes, Medicare and government regulations. President Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) might detail their policies, but let’s hope they do more than that. 

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Both candidates should describe how they would convince Congress to pass their agendas. No matter who wins in November, the president will have to work with a divided Congress. The House is expected to stay in the GOP’s hands, and while control of the Senate is uncertain, it is clear that neither party will have a filibuster-proof majority in the upper chamber. 

So either Obama or Romney will need to work on a bipartisan basis to pass major legislation soon after they are elected. The winner will have little time to celebrate, as he will be faced with thorny questions on the deficit, the nation’s debt ceiling, sequestration, Medicare reimbursements for physicians and the expiring Bush tax rates. 

In 2009 and 2010, Obama passed the stimulus and his healthcare law without any Republican backing. Following the 2010 election, he and the GOP-led House engaged in several high-profile showdowns on funding the government, the debt ceiling and the payroll tax cut. 

Deals were struck on all those issues, but negotiations were ugly. Approval ratings for both Obama and the Congress took a deserved hit, and lingering acrimony is prompting concern that policymakers will get little done in the lame-duck session or next year. 

It is unclear that Obama’s strained relationships with Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerGOP senators offer bill to require spending cuts with debt-limit hikes Pelosi blasts Trump’s ‘rookie error’ on ObamaCare repeal Freedom Caucus leader: Despite changes, healthcare bill doesn't have the votes MORE (R-Ohio) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellSenate GOP hedges on ObamaCare repeal timeline Chao: Trump tapped into 'a strain of anxiety,' 'fear' Top general: Trump State Department cuts would hurt military's efforts against Russia MORE (R-Ky.) can be repaired. 

Republicans in Congress hope that won’t matter because Obama will be packing his bags this fall, but most must be thinking about what they’ll do in the event of a Romney loss. Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), for example, told The Washington Post last month that taxes will go up should Obama win reelection. But if that is to mean more than the sunset of the prevailing rates under current law, it would mean Republicans having to go along with the president. 

Romney has suggested he would work with Congress better than Obama, noting that the Massachusetts Legislature was overwhelmingly Democratic when he was governor. 

Yet it is hard to see a President Romney working closely with Senate Democratic Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidThis obscure Senate rule could let VP Mike Pence fully repeal ObamaCare once and for all Sharron Angle to challenge GOP rep in Nevada Fox's Watters asks Trump whom he would fire: Baldwin, Schumer or Zucker MORE (Nev.), who has regularly attacked the White House hopeful this year. 

One way or another, the commander in chief next year will need to break the congressional stalemate. That will be an enormous task.