What the deal accomplishedThe most prominent aspect of the deal to avoid the fiscal cliff is that it preserved the Bush-era tax cuts for most Americans -- only individuals making more than $400,000 a year and households making more than $450,000 a year will see their federal income tax rates rise. Wealthy Americans will also pay more in capital gains and estate taxes under the agreement, while more people will be able to avoid the alternative minimum tax, which means that those people will be able to take better advantage of tax deductions. The deal also delayed a round of automatic spending cuts that was due to go into effect January 1. The immediate goal of this deal was to avoid snuffing out an already fragile economic recovery. Most experts agreed that the economy was not growing at a strong enough rate to overcome the drag on growth that result from a combination of widespread tax increases and federal spending cuts.
What the deal didn't accomplishThe deal did not completely spare the average taxpayer. A temporary break on Social Security taxes was allowed to expire, meaning that most people will see a small hit to their paychecks from now on. Perhaps more significantly in the long run, the deal did little to address the looming problem that inspired the fiscal cliff in the first place -- the growing federal budget deficit. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the deal will add $4 trillion to the deficit over the next 10 years.
The budget deal also failed to address the country's debt limit, which sets up another confrontation between Democrats and Republicans within a couple of months. Between that and the fact that the fiscal cliff's spending cuts have only been delayed rather than cancelled, it means that the economy may yet have to withstand some level of spending cuts.