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Editorial: ‘Fiscal cliff’ ignored

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney speaks during first presidential debate with President Barack ObamUniversity Denver Wednesday Oct. 3 2012 Denver.

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney speaks during the first presidential debate with President Barack Obama at the University of Denver, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, in Denver. (AP Photo/The Denver Post, John Leyba) MAGS OUT; TV OUT; INTERNET OUT

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Updated: November 6, 2012 6:23AM

Amazingly, the phrase “fiscal cliff” was never uttered during Wednesday’s presidential debate.

Amazingly, because the cliff is a mere three months away.

For all the general talk by Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama about how each would deal with the government’s massive debt and their governing philosophies, voters heard no specifics on what should be done between Election Day and Dec. 31.

It’s during that brief window that Obama must lead the Congress back from the edge of the fiscal cliff — or pay the price in his second term. If Romney is the one inaugurated in January, he’ll be the one owning the free fall.

On Jan. 2, barring any action by Congress, automatic tax increases and deep spending cuts will jolt the nation. A report by the non-partisan Tax Policy Center this week found that taxes will jump for 90 percent of all Americans. Nine separate taxes will increase, boosting taxes by about $535 million, or almost $3,500 per household. Congress will likely prevent some increases, but which ones and by what degree is hotly contested.

Even the most ardent liberal would argue sweeping tax increases would be catastrophic for the fragile economy, a blow the Congressional Budget Office says could push the economy back into recession.

On the spending side, the cuts are equally devastating. Most defense programs will see a 9 percent cut, with domestic programs taking an 8 percent hit for a total of $100 billion. A few examples: Hospital payments through Medicare would be cut by nearly $6 billion a year and nutrition programs for women and children would lose $543 million. Such drastic across-the-board cuts relieve Congress of its chief responsibility: prioritizing where best to spend scarce tax dollars.

The cliff is mandated by the Budget Control Act of 2011, the latest attempt to make Congress so uncomfortable, so frightened by what damage its inaction might cause, that it might finally compromise and agree on a balanced approach — yes, both cuts and new revenue — that will put the United States on the path to fiscal recovery.

Election Day is just over four weeks away.

But soon after, the cliff looms.

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