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The Government's "Year End Cliff" Gamble

With mid-term elections a month and a half away, and the expiration of the Bush tax cuts approaching at a rapid pace, the stakes for Obama's dwindling administration on the tax cut extension issue loom. And as Goldman's Alec Phillips demonstrates, the costs of either decision are huge: on one hand, should Obama go ahead and relent to extending all the tax cuts, he will almost guaranteed not be around for a second term due to the avalanche of disappointment in his electorate as he relents on this key promise. On the other hand, should he and the republicans be unable to find a compromise and all tax cuts expire, the impact to the economy could be so vast that America's breezy depression will become a full blown hurricane, possibly worse than anything the nation has ever seen. Phillips' succinct summary of the downside case is as follows: "Letting all of these provisions expire would subtract nearly 10 percentage points from annualized disposable income growth in Q1 2011, which could translate into a nearly 2 percentage point decline in final demand and nearly that large a drag on GDP in the first half of 2011." And it is not just the Bush cuts that are at steak: the year end "cliff" also sees the expiration of the “Making Work Pay” (MWP) payroll tax credit enacted in ARRA, and the relief from the alternative minimum tax (AMT). Yet with such key tax "experts" in the administration as Romer, Orszag and now Summers all gone, Obama will be very much clueless to evaluate the dramatic impact of all these "cliff" developments until it is likely too late. One thing is certain: if a stalemate prevails, GDP for H1 of 2011 will be wildly negative. The summary of the case by case impact can be seen on the chart below.

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