President Barack Obama smiles at supporter after delivering his victory speech on election night in Chicago on November 7, 2012.
President Barack Obama smiles at supporter after delivering his victory speech on election night in Chicago on November 7, 2012. - 
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Now that the election is over, lawmakers must face two pressing issues: the Affordable Care Act and the fiscal cliff.

What happens next with the health care law?

"The first date that's important that everybody's watching is November 16 -- that's the day when states have to decide whether or not they're going to establish these so-called state health exchanges," says Marketplace health care reporter Dan Gorenstein.

Gorenstein explains that these exchanges work like a kind of "Travelocity for health care." States can either run their own insurance marketplace, using federal money, leave it up to the federal government, or use a model that allows both state and federal governments to split the responsibilities.

"Most of us are going to continue to get insurance through our workplace, but there are about 30 million Americans who are going to get their insurance either through Medicaid or one of these exchanges, and you'll get a subsidy," says Gorenstein.

"People who can't get it through their job or can't afford it, they're going to get some federal help to help pay for the cost of health insurance. They're going to be able to go online and look and see what plan is going to meet [their needs]."

But health care isn't the only problem on the agenda for those that run the country. If Congress fails to act, the so-called fiscal cliff -- a series of tax increases and spending cuts -- will kick in at the end of the year.

"If all of that stuff were to take effect, taxes would go up, a number of Americans would lose their jobs -- those who are working for the government, those who are working for programs sponsored by the government -- and there would be more of this uncertainty," says Marketplace's David Gura. "We just wouldn't know what was going to happen with the economy."

Congress is due back on Tuesday to try to hammer out some sort of deal, but lawmakers don't have a whole lot of time left. What might happen if a deal isn't reached by the end of the year?

"People are saying that if the U.S. economy were to go over this cliff, it might lead to another recession. It could certainly hit the stock market pretty hard," says Gura. "People don't really know."



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Follow Dan Gorenstein at @dmgorenstein