On the other side of the fiscal cliff are spending cuts.
But the $110 billion in automatic cuts that would begin in January, barring congressional action this year, is relative chump change compared to the $500 billion in tax increases on the line next year if the nation falls off the cliff.
Still, Democrats and Republicans are gearing up for vigorous fights to save favored programs. Under the so-called "sequestration" plan hatched in the summer of 2011, cuts totaling $1.2 trillion over 10 years -- half from national defense, half from domestic spending -- automatically go into effect unless Congress comes up with another plan.
The $110 billion is next year's allotment of that $1.2 trillion.
Originally, the hope was that a congressional "supercommittee" would come up with an alternative plan. That was seen as preferable to the meat-cleaver approach that Congress laid out in its Budget Control Act of August 2011.
"The sequester was designed to be bad policy," White House press secretary Jay Carney has said. "To be onerous. To be objectionable to both Democrats and Republicans."
But last fall the supercommittee deadlocked -- just as Congress did over the debt ceiling.
Sen. John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat and committee member, blamed the failure on Republican "intransigence" over extending the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy. House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio shot back that Democrats had "insisted on dramatic tax hikes on American job creators."
The breakdown in talks only delayed the tough spending cuts that must be made under current law. And that frustrates Cabinet heads, such as Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, whose department faces potentially massive cuts.
"I'll take whatever the hell deal they can make right now to deal with sequestration," Panetta told reporters last month. "We cannot maintain a strong defense for this country if sequester is allowed to happen, number one. But very frankly, just the shadow of sequester being out there continually is something that ... basically creates a problem for us as we try to plan for the future.
"You want a strong national defense for this country? I need to have some stability," he added.
The White House also has weighed in, arguing that the automatic cuts would have a "devastating impact on important defense and nondefense programs."
In a report, the Obama administration said: "The administration does not support these cuts, but unless Congress acts responsibly, there will be no choice but to implement them. The destructive across-the-board cuts required by the sequestration are not a substitute for a responsible deficit-reduction plan."
The domestic cuts would affect government salaries, the air-traffic control system, the Border Patrol, the FBI, housing programs, food safety, after-school programs and education grants, according to the government report. Doctors who participate in the Medicare program would face 2 percent cuts.
Left off limits would be Social Security, Medicaid, supplemental security income, refundable tax credits, food stamps, veterans' benefits and the children's health insurance program.
GOP lawmakers, and some Democrats, will fight the big defense cuts and demand a re-ordering of priorities. In fact, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and other party members have accused President Barack Obama of being prepared to let the cuts go into effect, putting the military at risk.
Republicans are inclined to focus the cuts more on domestic programs, such as the subsidy to public television and radio that Romney cited in the first presidential debate. But no clear order of priorities has emerged.
Democrats generally would prefer a heavier focus on defense cuts. A group of House liberals already is warning that it will fight any budget-cut plan that spills over to Medicare, Social Security and safety-net programs for the poor.
But they also have not prepared a list of priorities.
Path to compromise
One default position would be to fall back on the two-year-old Simpson-Bowles plan crafted by Obama's 2010 fiscal commission.
That proposal, pieced together by a bipartisan panel, presented a recipe for cutting the federal budget and placing the country on a sustainable fiscal path. The plan included tax hikes as a way to win over Democrats and cuts to entitlements aimed at appealing to Republicans.
But only 11 of 18 members supported the final proposal, which was three short of the supermajority needed to send the package to Congress.
Some liberals oppose the idea of falling back on the plan. Simpson-Bowles "would not invest in the economy, would not create jobs, does not raise enough in revenues and doesn't protect Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid," said Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois, a Democrat and commission member.
Another option is to delay developing a plan until the new Congress takes office next year.
In the meantime, the present Congress could pass a law delaying any cuts for six months, until the new Congress has prepared its own list.