The latest report from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released on Tuesday said that if the country falls off the “fiscal cliff”—variously also called “taxmageddon”—it will likely enter a new recession. With the ending of the Bush-era tax cuts, the termination of extended unemployment benefits, the reimposition of the payroll tax rates back up to 6.2 percent from the current 4.2 percent, and the “sequester” cuts in government spending demanded by the agreement that Congress hammered out last summer in order to raise the debt ceiling, the CBO predicts that the country’s Gross National Product (GNP) will go negative for at least two quarters, which is the classic definition of a recession.
But, adds the CBO, if Congress does nothing, the longer-term benefits could be significant: a lowering of the annual deficit by about $600 billion in the first year, and lower deficits in the out years. This would reduce the danger of spiraling interest costs on the $16.4-trillion national debt along with a lower risk of further credit downgrades of the government debt by various rating services. In other words, according to the CBO: pain now or pain later.
If, as is likely, the Congress just simply sits on its hands and waits until after the November election or January 20 when the next Congress takes over, the problem just gets worse. As the CBO notes: