5 things at stake in the 2012 election

The balance of the Supreme Court is one of things which a President can influence. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Presidents are powerful people, but sometimes we tend to forget that theyíre not all-powerful. Presidents donít employ very many people and canít control the price of gas. Below is a short list of things they at least can try to control.

1) The balance of the Supreme Court:

Itís not news that the Supreme Court is closely divided, with five Republican appointees and four Democratic appointees. Anthony Kennedy, who was appointed by Ronald Reagan, often is considered the swing vote.

Many of the most important decisions of the past few decades have been decided by a 5-4 margin, including this summerís landmark ruling on President Barack Obamaís Affordable Care Act. In that case, the usually conservative Chief Justice John Roberts shocked the country by siding with the courtís liberal wing.

Two Reagan appointees (Kennedy and Scalia, both 76) and two Clinton appointees (Stephen Breyer, 74, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 79) are well past retirement age, and Ginsburg has suffered health problems.

A lot can happen in four years, and thereís a good chance that whoeverís elected will put their own stamp on the highest deliberative body in the land. By doing that, the president has a measure of control over the most controversial and divisive issues in the country.

2) Climate change:

While it hasnít gotten much attention in the general election, the candidates have expressed divergent views on what to do about a climate that the vast majority of scientists agree is growing warmer, bringing with it a slew of issues, including rising sea levels and erratic weather.

The Hill reports that some political observers foresee a renewed effort by the Obama administration to limit emissions through a so-called cap-and-trade program. The cap is an upper limit to emissions for a plant, industry or region, and the trade is the ability for those below the quota to sell off whatever they havenít used to bigger polluters.

The administrationís attempt to pass such a bill in Barack Obamaís first term failed in Congress. What may be different here, according to The Hill, is that Obama could use the EPA to regulate emissions directly, without going through Congress.

Mitt Romney questions the science behind the idea of man-made global warming and says some actions to curb emissions could hurt the economy.

3) Health care

The Affordable Care Act ó known almost universally as Obamacare ó is the signature piece of legislation from President Obamaís first term. It aims to bring health insurance to everyone in the country using a number of different methods. U.S. News offers a breakdown of how the law affects consumers.

The law has been controversial for many reasons. One of the main bones of contention is the mandate that everyone either buy insurance for themselves and their families or face a penalty. As was mentioned above, the mandate was found to be constitutional earlier this year, meaning that most aspects of the Affordable Care Act will go into effect.

Romney has pledged to repeal the act, but this is a case that demonstrates the limited power of the presidency: Any repeal would have to go through Congress. While the House of Representatives has voted to repeal the act numerous times, it would require a 60-vote majority in the Senate, which could be problematic with the likely narrow majority for either party there.

Romney certainly would be able to slow implementation of the law, offer waivers to states and use executive orders to weaken it substantially.

4) Debt and taxes

As the campaign has gone along, one of the key arguments has been about who would do what about taxes for whom.

Federal budget deficits are running at more than $1 trillion per year. The national debt stands at approximately $16 trillion, and cost the federal government nearly $360 billion in interest payments in the first 10 months of the year, according to the Treasury Department.

Romney largely wants to use budget cuts to reduce the deficit and debt, while lowering tax rates to increase economic growth. To do that, he also would get rid of some tax deductions and credits, The New York Times explains.

Obama also plans to make cuts, but says he wants to raise some taxes on the rich, as explained by The Washington Post.

A fun way to judge the Romney and Obama plans is to play an interactive game from the Post where you try to get each candidateís plan to add up.

5) Energy

The Obama administration has put billions of dollars into green energy, including solar and wind power, producing both failures and successes. The failures, such as the billion-dollar bankruptcy of solar manufacturer Solyndra ó which had been held up as model company ó has led to attacks from Romney and the right.

Romney has called for more complete exploitation of fossil fuel resources in the United States, including the enormous amounts of natural gas available through hydraulic fracturing. Environmentalists say the process ó which involves pumping water and chemicals into the ground in areas containing shale and coal ó can damage the environment. Romney also is calling for increased drilling for oil on shore and off, and the construction of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline from Canada, according to his campaign website.

Obama is also in favor of fracking and deepwater drilling, as well as continuing to fund green energy efforts, according to the White House website. Obama also raised fuel-efficiency requirements for cars on American roads, requiring an average of 54.5 mpg by 2025.

Join the Conversation