By Lisa Desjardins, CNN
(CNN) – Forget about the election for a moment. The U.S. has a fiscal storm approaching that could have just as long-reaching effects on the nation as the choice for president. It’s called the fiscal cliff. Three major budget storms set to hit within months.
♦ Government spending will again hit the national debt limit, requiring an increase. That could happen sometime between November and February.
♦ Across-the-board spending cuts, that both parties agree are not the wisest way to lower spending, are set to hit most of government. Those hit January 1.
♦ The Bush tax cuts will expire, a $5 Trillion dollar policy (over 10 years) that affects the majority of Americans. Also January 1.
“You’ve got three sort of big issues forcing Congress to act in coming months,” said Chris Edwards, director of tax policy studies at the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute. But Congress is a long way from action.
In the past week, Democrats and Republicans have laid out opposing positions not just on the substance of the debates, such as which Bush tax cuts should be extended, but also on the process of the debate, with Republicans insisting on spending cuts attached to a debt ceiling increase.
These conflicts led to the country coming within hours of a government shutdown in 2011. Will they cause a government shutdown in 2012 or 2013? Experts are divided. But all agree that the Fiscal Cliff is so steep and politics so sharp that perhaps only the threat of a true, headlong fall, will force Congress to agree.