It took exactly three presidential debates before either Mitt Romney or Barack Obama addressed what many economists say is the most-pressing issue that the federal government faces.
And even then, they talked only about part of the problem.
In January, the George W. Bush-era 2001 and 2003 income and investment tax cuts are scheduled to expire. At the same time, $109 billion in discretionary spending cuts — half to the Defense Department — are set to go into effect, part of a scheduled $1.2 trillion reduction over 10 years.
Economists call the combination “the fiscal cliff” and say the effect would be sweeping and dramatic. One economist from George Mason University predicted that it would cost the country 2.14 million jobs in a very short period of time...
“This is really like children playing with nitroglycerin, saying, ‘It hasn’t gone off yet,’ ” said Steve Bell, a Republican former staff director for the Senate Budget Committee. “It’s astonishing to me.”
Bell, who now is a senior policy director at the Bipartisan Policy Center, said both Obama and Congress deserve equal shares of blame. He said letting the nation go over the fiscal cliff “is a form of insanity.”
He said the uncertainty alone about the issue already has curbed the nation’s gross domestic product by about a half a percentage point. Companies aren’t expanding because of the uncertainty.
“It is the most-consequential decision we have to make, and nobody is talking about it,” Bell said.