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Over The Fiscal Cliff: Soft Or Hard Landing?

The temporary Social Security payroll tax cut has also expired. The Senate bill does not continue that tax break.

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THE SPENDING

If the nation goes over the fiscal cliff, budget cuts of 8 percent or 9 percent would hit most of the federal government, touching all sorts of things from agriculture to law enforcement and the military to weather forecasting. A few areas, such as Social Security benefits, Veterans Affairs and some programs for the poor, are exempt.

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CALL THE WHOLE THING OFF?

In theory, Congress and Obama could just say no to the fiscal cliff, by extending all the tax cuts and overturning the automatic spending reductions in current law. But both Republicans and Democrats agree it's time to take steps to put the nation on a path away from a future of crippling debt.

Indeed, the automatic spending cuts set for January were created as a last-ditch effort to force Congress to deal with the debt problem.

The next crisis is just around the corner, in late February or early March, when the government is expected to reach a $16.4 trillion ceiling on the amount of money it can borrow.

Boehner says Republicans won't go along with raising the limit on government borrowing unless the increase is matched by spending cuts to help attack the long-term debt problem. Failing to raise the debt ceiling could lead to a first-ever U.S. default that would roil the financial markets and shake worldwide confidence in the United States.

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IT'S NOT JUST WASHINGTON

Seems like they could just make nice, shake hands and split their differences, right?

But there's a reason neither side wants to give ground. The two parties represent a divided and inconsistent America. True, Obama just won re-election. But voters also chose a Republican majority in the House.

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