The Fiscal Cliff and debt ceiling Explained -why should USA and the world worry?

“Fiscal cliff” is the popular shorthand term used to describe the conundrum that the U.S. government will face at the end of 2012, when the terms of the Budget Control Act of 2011 are scheduled to go into effect.
Among the laws set to change at midnight on December 31, 2012, are the end of last year’s temporary payroll tax cuts (resulting in a 2% tax increase for workers), the end of certain tax breaks for businesses, shifts in the alternative minimum tax that would take a larger bite, the end of the tax cuts from 2001-2003, and the beginning of taxes related to President Obama’s health care law. At the same time, the spending cuts agreed upon as part of the debt ceiling deal of 2011 will begin to go into effect. According to Barron's, over 1,000 government programs - including the defense budget and Medicare are in line for "deep, automatic cuts."
In dealing with the fiscal cliff, U.S. lawmakers have a choice among three options, none of which are particularly attractive:
  • They can let the current policy scheduled for the beginning of 2013 – which features a number of tax increases and spending cuts that are expected to weigh heavily on growth and possibly drive the economy back into a recession – go into effect. The plus side: the deficit, as a percentage of GDP, would be cut in half.
  • They can cancel some or all of the scheduled tax increases and spending cuts, which would add to the deficit and increase the odds that the United States could face a crisis similar to that which is occurring in Europe. The flip side of this, of course, is that the United States' debt will continue to grow.
  • They could take a middle course, opting for an approach that would address the budget issues to a limited extent, but that would have a more modest impact on growth.
Possible Effects of the Fiscal Cliff
If the current laws slated for 2013 go into effect, the impact on the economy would be dramatic. While the combination of higher taxes and spending cuts would reduce the deficit by an estimated $560 billion, the CBO estimates that the policies set to go into effect would cut gross domestic product (GDP) by four percentage points in 2013, sending the economy into a recession (i.e., negative growth). At the same time, it predicts unemployment would rise by almost a full percentage point, with a loss of about two million jobs. A Wall St. Journal article from May 16, 2012 estimates the following impact in dollar terms: “In all, according to an analysis by J.P. Morgan economist Michael Feroli, $280 billion would be pulled out of the economy by the sunsetting of the Bush tax cuts; $125 billion from the expiration of the Obama payroll-tax holiday; $40 billion from the expiration of emergency unemployment benefits; and $98 billion from Budget Control Act spending cuts. In all, the tax increases and spending cuts make up about 3.5% of GDP, with the Bush tax cuts making up about half of that, according to the J.P. Morgan report.” Amid an already-fragile recovery and elevated unemployment, the economy is not in a position to avoid this type of shock.
 
Also read:
http://bonds.about.com/od/Issues-in-the-News/a/What-Is-The-Debt-Ceiling-A-Simple-Explanation-Of-The-Debate-And-Crisis.htm

From http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2012/11/27/absolutely-everything-you-need-to-know-about-the-fiscal-cliff-in-one-faq/

What is the fiscal cliff?

The fiscal cliff is an inapt metaphor for the looming consequences of some very bad congressional decisions.

On or around Jan. 1, about $500 billion in tax increases and $200 billion in spending cuts (see table 1) are scheduled to take effect. That’s equal to about four percent of GDP, which is, according to the Congressional Budget Office, more than enough to throw us into a recession (more on that later).




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