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12022012-5 Debt. Deficit. Budget. Taxes. Pretty boring, right? Actually, these are all a part of a nail-biter situation that is unfolding (or unraveling) in Washington, DC right now. You may have heard or read about it; it is front-page headlines in newspapers across the country, including the [TargetNewspaper]: the fiscal cliff.

When you think of a cliff, exciting extreme sports might pop into your head. The fiscal cliff is a little like that, with one very important distinction. It is our economy, without a safety net. Think parasailing…without the sail or safety cord. Or, bungee jumping…without the bungee. Now it is not exciting, it is dangerous and foolish. The United States economy is headed toward an economic cliff without a parachute. President Obama and Congressional leaders have until January 1, 2013 to devise a route that avoids toppling over the edge of the cliff.

A looming fiscal cliff is a stark contrast to Christmas. Families that face higher taxes, fewer social programs, or unemployment should we leap off the fiscal cliff may ficliffnd it difficult to embrace the consumer spirit of Christmas. Political division and posturing violates the season’s spirit of harmony. However, the resolution to this financial crisis will set the fiscal tone for years to come and will impact the daily lives of millions of Americans.Why are we headed to this fiscal cliff now? How can we prevent careening off? What do experts predict the economic and human effects will be? What is a fiscal cliff, why does it matter, and why should you care? These questions are what you will investigate this week.


The fiscal cliff is a somber topic but it also offers political cartoonists and satirical songwriters fodder for their art. Begin with a satirical song. If you are unsure of the lyrics, turn on the subtitles. What is the message of the song? Who are the main characters in this narrative? What does each character do or believe? What does the song add to your understanding of the fiscal cliff?

12022012-13 While you are at PBS’ site, visit Need to Know. Watch the first two minutes of the fiscal cliff video for an introduction. Then listen to the next five minutes as the panel of guests discusses the implications and effects of not cementing a compromise before the cliff deadline of January 1, 2013. What is at stake? Summarize some of the complexities involved in this issue.

Turn to American Public Media’s Marketplace for a series of features that examine the fiscal cliff. The possibility that the U.S. economy may be driven off a cliff leads to comparisons to Thelma and Louise, the 1991 Academy Award winning film. In it, a two-day vacation becomes a series of bad luck, blunders, and foolish decisions that push Thelma and Louise quite literally to the edge of a cliff. Watch Marketplace’s whiteboard explanation of the fiscal cliff, Thelma and Louise style. The CEO of UPS discusses his hopes for a solution, likely consequences of the fiscal cliff scenario, and the long-term significance of a resolution.

fiscal3 President Obama, House Speaker John Boehner (R), Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi are key players in the effort to draft a solution. What issues divide them? Turn to the Associated Press suite of interactives for a breakdown of what each side wants, and why a compromise seems more difficult than nailing jello to a wall. Begin on page 3 and watch the video, What is a Fiscal Cliff?, that tracks the history of the current crisis. How did past decisions create this situation? View the CBO’s infographic displaying two alternatives: what happens if things continue as they are, what happens if we dive off the fiscal cliff. How does the long-term prognosis differ these plans? What are some of the immediate consequences of each? List the pros and cons of each path.fiscal2

Return to page 1 of the Associated Press interactive, A Federal Budget out of Balance. (Use the arrow keys in the upper left margin to move from page to page.) How has the deficit changed in the past three decades? What fiscal conditions did President Obama inherit that have affected spending? Scroll down to read about three key issues and what each side wants. Turn to page two to examine the current tax rates and how President Obama proposes they change. Which income brackets would be affected by his proposal and how? Would his proposal affect your family?

fiscal4 With any hotly contested, highly relevant current event, there exist a range of opinions on what to do and who is to blame. A glance through the TargetNewspaper will reveal a host of op-ed pieces about this issue. Political cartoonists use art to express their opinions. Use the Library of Congress’ guide to analyzing political cartoons to examine more closely the cartoons accompanying this article. Use the Observe, Reflect, and Question guides to analyze at least two of the cartoons. Complete the beginnings activity follow-up activity found at the bottom of the page. What is your opinion of the fiscal cliff crisis and the leaders involved? Challenge yourself to create a political cartoon that shares your perspective.