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Gimme shelter! Your Rolling Stones guide to the 'fiscal cliff'

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"Who could hang a name on you?" (from "Ruby Tuesday," 1967)

The predicament didn't have to be called fiscal cliff. In fact, that phrase had been bandied about on occasion, prior to this year, in a wholly different context. Some conservatives had used it to conjure up the image that rising federal debt would plunge the nation into economic ruin.

But over the past 12 months, the term has been adopted for a different meaning: the notion that if the scheduled tax hikes and spending cuts happen, the economy could be plunged into recession by the sudden hit to consumer spending. Ordinary households would have less money in their paychecks, and the federal government would be playing a smaller role as a consumer of goods and services.

Some conservatives hung a different name on the problem: "taxmageddon." Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke was one of the ones who helped popularize the cliff phraseology, which has the virtue of encompassing the spending as well as the tax side of the challenge. 

"They can't say we never tried" (from "Angie," 1973)

With the day of reckoning near, the good news is that the political parties are talking – trying to cut a fiscal bargain that would avert a sudden shock to the economy while at the same time reducing federal deficits. The lead actors in this drama are President Obama on the Democratic side and House Speaker John Boehner for the Republicans. They aren't smiling much on camera. But they keep holding meetings. Neither side wants to go down as the one that didn't try hard enough to reach a deal.

"Now I need you more than ever" (from "Let's Spend the Night Together," 1967)

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