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CBO warns of US falling off ‘fiscal cliff’

WASHINGTON (AP) — A new government study released Tuesday says that allowing Bush-era tax cuts to expire and a scheduled round of automatic spending cuts to take effect would probably throw the economy into a recession.

The Congressional Budget Office report says that the economy would shrink by 1.3 percent in the first half of next year if the government is allowed to fall off this so-called “fiscal cliff” on Jan. 1 — and the higher tax rates and more than $100 billion in automatic cuts to the Pentagon and domestic agencies are kept in place.

There’s common agreement that lawmakers will act either late this year or early next year to head off the dramatic shift in the government’s financial situation. But if they were left in place, CBO says it would wring hundreds of billions of dollars from the budget deficit that would “represent an additional drag on the weak economic expansion.”

CBO projected the economy would contract by 1.3 percent in the first half of 2013, which would meet the traditional definition of a recession, which is when the economy shrinks for two consecutive quarters.

“Such a contraction in output in the first half of 2013 would probably be judged to be a recession,” CBO said.

The economy would rebound at a 2.3 percent growth rate in the second half of the year, however, under CBO projections.

At issue is the full expiration of two rounds of major tax cuts enacted during the Bush administration and automatic spending cuts on the Pentagon and domestic programs that are scheduled to take effect as punishment for the failure of last year’s deficit “supercommittee” to produce a deficit-cutting agreement last year.

Last summer’s debt and budget agreement imposed almost $1 trillion in cuts to agency budgets over the coming decade and required automatic cuts — dubbed a sequester in Washington-speak — of another $1 trillion or so over the coming decade.

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