The political and economic ramifications are too big for Washington to let the large tax increases and spending cuts take effect. But this doesn't necessarily mean lawmakers will craft a decisive solution to the nation's fiscal woes.
Zina Saunders illustration
Relax, America. You can put your parachutes away. Washington isn't likely to take the country over the dreaded "fiscal cliff." Even a capital city as deadlocked and dysfunctional as Washington has been in recent years is not likely to risk a move that has so many economic and political ramifications, according to a wide range of experts.
That is not to say the journey won't be contentious and perhaps a cliffhanger. Don't forget, the same cast of characters is starring in this big-screen epic – either a dark comedy or a thriller, take your pick – that has brought Americans to this point before: Democrats ruling the White House and Senate, and Republicans, including a clique of unyielding conservatives, in power in the House.
Yet analysts on both sides of the aisle believe that doing nothing, which on Jan. 1 would trigger the beginning of $600 billion in tax increases and large cuts to the federal budget, would inflict too much damage on individuals' wallets, on the economy, and on America's standing in the world.
The fiscal cliff, after all, was never intended to be a serious option. The elements of it grew out of years of debt avoidance and budget gimmickry that finally peaked in 2011 with the impasse over raising the federal debt ceiling. After a bipartisan congressional panel failed to agree on spending cuts, Republicans and Democrats added the infamous "sequestration" portion – a series of automatic spending cuts that were so distasteful that lawmakers would be forced to agree on more sensible trims.
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