The Fiscal Cliff: A Primer
November 13, 2012
By TF Staff
Special Report No. 204: The Fiscal Cliff: A Primer
On December 31, 2012, a large swath of the federal income tax code is scheduled to expire, an event which has come to be known as the “fiscal cliff.” Among the expiring provisions are the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts enacted under President Bush, a compromise on the estate tax, a “patch” in the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) reducing its impact, the temporary 2 percent payroll tax holiday, increased business expensing, and the “extenders” package of miscellaneous tax deductions. On January 1, 2013, five taxes enacted as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA)—popularly referred to as Obamacare—also take effect, along with sequester spending reductions of $109 billion due to the failure of the “supercommittee” to reach consensus on budget reductions. Taken together this “fiscal cliff,” or “Taxmageddon,” could potentially reduce economic output by hundreds of billions of dollars.
Congress and the President will have little time to rest after the New Year: in late February, the U.S. government will hit the debt ceiling, exhausting its ability to borrow to finance ongoing spending without an increase by Congress. Finally, the federal government’s continuing resolution appropriating spending expires on March 27, 2013.
The fiscal cliff is the culmination of a decade of “temporary” tax and budget bills that have postponed resolution of key policy differences. Should the tax code be used to heavily promote income distribution or aim instead to raise revenue in the least distortive manner possible? How large should federal spending be? Should PPACA be modified or repealed? Should there be a federal estate tax and if so, at what level? Should the payroll tax be reduced and if so, how should we fund Social Security and Medicare? What should Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid look like as the population ages?