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Beyond the 'cliff': Why spending cuts are next on the agenda (+video)

The just-concluded fiscal cliff deal answered most questions about taxes, for now, but until Obama and Congress address spending cuts, the federal deficit problem has not been solved.

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The "fiscal cliff" deal reached over the holiday weekend lifted an immediate cloud of uncertainty over US taxpayers in the new year, but it didn't resolve the longer-term question of how to significantly reduce federal deficits.

That's why the next round of fiscal policy talks is already in the works. And because the just-completed round centered heavily on raising tax revenue from the rich, the dominant issue in the next round promises to be spending cuts.

The question for President Obama and Congress will be how to pare back the projected rise in federal spending in a sensible way – so that deficits come down without doing undue harm to the economy and to important voter priorities.

In recent days, Mr. Obama hasn't seemed eager to lead the way on this. He has signaled firm opposition to linking the approval of a higher public-debt limit to commitments on spending cuts as demanded by conservatives, saying the ability of the US to pay its bills should be nonnegotiable.

A White House fact sheet on this week's fiscal deal, meanwhile, didn't put urgent emphasis on the spending issue. Instead, the statement lauded the Jan. 1 fiscal plan as providing "greater economic certainty for families and businesses," while acknowledging the need for more progress.

Yet the spending questions can't be easily avoided, for several reasons:

Politics. Republicans are pushing hard, and they control the House and have filibuster potential in the Senate.

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