Last summer, as part of its agreement to end the debt-ceiling debate (debacle?), Congress strapped a bomb to the economy and set the timer for January 2013. Into it they packed billions of dollars of mandatory discretionary spending cuts, timed to go off at exactly the same time a number of tax cuts were set to expire.
[Source: Bloomberg Data; Goldman Sachs]
By CNN's Jack Cafferty:
Picture the United States in the convertible at the end of the movie "Thelma and Louise" as it hurtles toward the cliff and the demise of the car's occupants. A bit melodramatic perhaps, but the fiscal cliff is fast approaching.
And if Congress doesn't take action before the end of the year - which is entirely possible - we're going to fall off it.
It's called a "cliff" for a reason. If nothing is done, massive spending cuts and tax increases will kick in.
The fiscal cliff also includes those automatic across-the-board spending cuts to The Pentagon and other domestic programs.
And once again as the clock ticks down, there seems to be little common ground between Democrats and Republicans:
Democrats want to raise taxes, Republicans want major changes to entitlement programs. And they want to do away with those automatic spending cuts. We've seen this movie before.
House Speaker John Boehner says 2013 should be the year we "begin to solve our debt" through tax and entitlement reform.
But don't hold your breath.
For starters, there's not that much time left for this lame duck session between their Thanksgiving and Christmas vacations. And Democrats might want to wait until January when they have a larger majority in the Senate.
Then there's always the possibility Congress settles on a smaller deal or a temporary one. Kick the can down the road once again.
But if nothing is done taxes will go up for every single American, and we will be looking at another recession next year.
None of this will be easy on Americans' pocketbooks.
Here’s Jacks question to you: How will the fiscal cliff affect the way you handle your money?