Whether you call it a cliff, curb, slope, staircase, or even an austerity crisis, the fact is, time is running short for the President and Congress to deal with the tax and budget issues most in the media are calling the "fiscal cliff."
Of course, since YOU elected Congress, you should also understand this issue.
What Is This 'Cliff?'
As Ezra Klein notes in his comprehensive guide, the "fiscal cliff" is basically too much austerity - aka too much budget cutting - and too many tax increases, happening too fast.
That's the ultra-short definition.
As Rick Ungar explained in more depth recently, there are really three large pieces to this tax and budget problem.
The first big piece is the Bush Tax Cuts, that were initially scheduled to end in 2010. As we've explained in depth previously, those tax cuts were never meant to be permanent - and we can't afford to keep them all indefinitely.
The second piece of the problem is an assorted group of expiring tax cuts, like the payroll tax cut President Obama pushed through in 2010 to help working families get through the Bush Recession. This piece of the problem also includes the return of the Alternative Minimum Tax, yet another tax problem Congress hasn't fixed for years.
The final piece of this tax and budget fiscal disaster is the sequester, the massive across-the-board spending cuts that came from the Republicans' hostage taking negotiations on the debt ceiling in August of 2011.
If Congress does nothing to fix this situation, as this chart shows, approximately $680 billion in taxes will be due in 2013. That's the bad news.
The good news is that not all of that $680 billion in new taxes will be due right away. That's why, as Kevin Drum points out in his Q&A on this topic, this fiscal crisis is more like a fiscal staircase.
Instead of having to pay the whole amount up front, only about $1.6 billion will be due every day we don't have a deal. That's a hefty sum but an amount that's small, relative to the U.S. economy. Think of it as a $1.6 billion cattle prod that gets bigger everyday, in order to move obstructionists in Congress towards a compromise.
How Did We Get Here?
Michael Linden, Director for Tax And Budget Policy at The Center For American Progress illustrates this perfectly, in three minutes.
What Should We Do Now?
Simple. You're informed, if you've read the above, and clicked through the links.
Now it's time YOU got into action.
If history is any kind of teacher (and it is), most Congresspersons won't do anything at all unless you crack the whip on them.
So pick up your phone, your mouse, or your pen, and contact your member of Congress EVERY DAY until they get off their asses and solve this problem in a sane, rational, way. If you've got a Republican member of Congress? Contact them three times a day.
As Randi has said many, many, many times there are plenty of easy ways to solve this tax and budget problem that don't hurt worklng people, or really most Americans.
It's not as difficult a problem as some in the media would have you believe. It just requires a bit of motivation.
So get crackin' already.