Fear mounts over US 'fiscal cliff'

2012-12-24 10:13

Washington - Some US lawmakers voiced concern on Sunday that the country would go over "the fiscal cliff" in nine days, triggering harsh spending cuts and tax hikes, and some Republicans charged that was President Barack Obama's goal.

"It's the first time that I feel it's more likely that we will go over the cliff than not," Senator Joe Lieberman, an independent from Connecticut, said on CNN's "State of the Union."

"If we allow that to happen it will be the most colossal consequential act of congressional irresponsibility in a long time, maybe ever in American history."

"It looks like to me that obviously this is going to drag on into next year, which is going to hurt our economy," Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee said on CBS "Capitol Gains."

The Democratic president and Republican House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner, the two key negotiators, are not talking and are out of town for the Christmas holidays. Congress is in recess, and will have only a few days next week to act before Jan. 1.

On the Sunday TV talk shows, no one signalled a change of position that could form the basis for a short-term fix, despite a suggestion from Obama on Friday that he would favour one.

The focus was shifting instead to the days following Jan. 1 when the lowered tax rates dating back to President George W. Bush's administration will have expired, presenting Congress with a redefined and more welcome task that involves only cutting taxes, not raising them.

"I believe we are," going over the cliff, Republican Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming said on Fox News Sunday. "I think the president is eager to go over the cliff for political purposes. I think he sees a political victory at the bottom of the cliff."

Some Republicans have said Obama would welcome the fiscal cliff's tax increases and defence cuts, as well as the chance to blame Republicans for rejecting deal. Obama has rejected that assertion.

Democrats have charged that Boehner has his own self-interested reasons for avoiding a deal before 3 January, when the House elected on 6 November, is sworn in and casts votes for a new speaker.

Democratic Senator Charles Schumer of New York said on NBC's "Meet the Press" that Boehner has been reluctant to reach across the political aisle for fear it could cost him the speakership when he runs for re-election. "I know he's worried," said Schumer.

Boehner, who so far has no serious challenger for the job of speaker, has said that he has no such concerns.

Such finger pointing has been under way since Congress returned after the election, but it has gained intensity in the past few days, with the heightened prospect of plunging off the cliff.

Congress started the clock ticking in August of 2011 on the cliff. The threat of about $600bn of spending cuts and tax increases was intended to shock the Democratic-led White House and Senate and the Republican-led House into bridging their many differences to approve a plan to bring tax relief to most Americans and curb runaway federal spending.

Economists say the harsh tax increases and budget cuts from the fiscal cliff could thrust the world's largest economy back into a recession, unless Congress acts quickly to ease the economic blow.

Markets could tumble

The most immediate impact could come in financial markets, which have been relatively calm in recent weeks as Republicans and Democrats bickered, but could tumble without prospects for a deal.

Markets will be open for a half-day on Christmas Eve, when Congress will not be in session, and will be closed on Tuesday for Christmas.

Wall Street will resume regular stock trading on Wednesday, but volume is expected to be light throughout the week with scores of market participants away on a holiday break.

If Congress fails to reach any agreement, income tax rates will go up on just about everyone on 1 January 1. Unemployment benefits, which Democrats had hoped to extend as part of a deal, will expire for many as well.

In the first week of January, Congress could scramble and get a quick deal on taxes and the $109 billion in automatic spending cuts for 2013 that most lawmakers want to avoid.

Once tax rates go up on 1 January, it could be easier to keep those higher rates on wealthier taxpayers while reducing them for middle- and lower-income taxpayers. Lawmakers would not have to cast votes to raise taxes.

Some lawmakers expressed guarded hope that a short-term deal on deficit reduction could be reached in the next week or so, with a longer, more permanent deal hammered out next year.

But a short-term deal would need bipartisan support, as Obama has said he would veto a bill that does not raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans.

Democratic Senator Kent Conrad, chairman of the Budget Committee, said Obama and Boehner are not that far apart and that both sides should keep pushing for a long-term big deal.

"I would hope we would have one last attempt here to do what everyone knows needs to be done, which is the larger plan that really does stabilise the debt and get us moving in the right direction," Conrad of North Dakota told Fox News on Sunday.

But most Republicans are now looking past Jan. 1 to what they consider their next best chance of leveraging Obama for more cuts in the Federal budget - a fight over the debt ceiling expected in late January or early February. At that time, the administration will need Congress' authorisation to raise the limit on the amount of money the government can borrow.

"That's where the real chance for change occurs, at the debt-ceiling debate," Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said on "Meet the Press".

  • Eterni80 - 2012-12-24 10:20

    the yanks all but bankrupted the world with their sub-prime BS - so you'll forgive me if I'm not really all that sympathetic. It's sad that the world lives and dies by whatever the yanks do.

      sean.bagley.50 - 2012-12-24 13:27

      It's not so much a fiscal cliff,as it seems to be more of a fiscal slope.Currently what Congress wants are unsustainable.Unionized workers across America are now getting between $5,500 to $7,500 in bonuses which is why it's unsustainable.General Motors recently bought shares that was owned by the taxpayer at approximately half the amount that they needed and got as per their bailouts. Obama's administration is asking for $45billion in tax credits for carmakers of which the taxpayer has to cough it all up.They not concern about "fiscal cliffs",and that's because they in the business to make money all these big corporations. So let's go over the cliff then and see where it takes the rest of the world in the global economy!It's almost the same as when an obese person is obsessing about losing his/her weight and but still don't change his/her poor eating habits.You see where the real problem lies? Obama's tax hikes on the $250,000 earners will only raise $80billion in revenues,but the deficit will only be reduced $1.2trillion.The American defence budget for example is $700billion a year,but the annual deficit for that still remains at $920billion. Tax rates for the middle classes only means that you're told to live any which way you like and just dump all the cost of that on the next generations of Americans.Cut spending and pay your taxes commensurate with the benefits that you receive!

      Donkervlie - 2012-12-26 09:29

      The USA economy is not the one for us to worry about. Its fiscal policies have only a small effect on our economy. Our big worry is if the Chinese economy takes a fiscal hic-cup while the USA is having problems. I feel we will really be feeling the pinch then. Especially if our own fiscal discipline is not tightened.

  • bbooyse - 2012-12-24 11:23

    If you owe the bank a thousand dollars, it's your problem... When you owe the bank almost 20 trillion (like the US does), it's the bank's problem :D

  • chaze.damonze - 2012-12-24 11:39

    Im quite young and foolish, so can someone please explain what exactly this fiscal cliff thing is. Would be appreciated

      bobo.jane.1 - 2012-12-24 16:18

      Google is your friend.. In the United States, the fiscal cliff is a term used to refer to the economic effects that could result from tax increases, spending cuts and a corresponding reduction in the US budget deficit beginning in 2013 if existing laws are not changed by the end of 2012. The deficit—the difference between what the government takes in and what it spends—is expected to be reduced by roughly half beginning in the first days of 2013. This sharp decrease in the deficit in such a short period of time is known as the fiscal cliff. The Congressional Budget Office estimates this sudden reduction will probably lead to a mild recession in early 2013. I`m quite confident South Africa will be isolated from an American recession..

      chaze.damonze - 2012-12-24 17:25

      Thanks bobo jane, much appreciated! Dunno why i got a dislike though

  • - 2012-12-24 11:53

    Digital money made from thin air, that's the yankee financial system, a house of cards about to come crashing down....

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