Filed Under:

A Sequester Is A 'Jelly-Like Mass,' And Other Notes On Fiscal-Cliff Jargon

Play associated audio

Here's a quick rundown on three of the most impenetrable terms related to the fiscal cliff. For more, see our post, The Fiscal Cliff In Three And A Half Graphics.

1. Sequester

The sequester is a bundle of spending cuts that kick in automatically next year unless Congress acts to block them. This makes sense, given that sequester means "to set aside." It's like a bunch of money is getting set aside and not spent.

But when I looked up "sequester" in the OED, a much more obscure definition seemed to capture the feel of the broader political mess that's happening here:

A jelly-like mass gradually hardens and becomes ossified, surrounds, like a sheath,..the necrotic bone, which is then called a sequester.

2. Doc Fix

Two words: "Doc," as in "doctor." So far, so good. But what is "fix" doing there? Is something broken?

Yes. In particular, the formula Congress uses to determine Medicare payments to doctors is broken.

Years ago, Congress created a formula to limit the annual increases in Medicare payments to doctors. But when it came time to actually adhere to the formula, Congress balked. But instead of getting rid of the formula altogether, Congress passed a temporary fix.

This happened again and again over the years. The most recent temporary patch is set to expire at the end of this year. If it expires, Medicare payments to doctors would fall by 27 percent.

3. AMT Patch

It's not a Boy Scout merit badge. It's a weird tax thing Congress does every year.

The alternative minimum tax was created as a tax on people with high incomes who met certain criteria. But it wasn't indexed to inflation. As a result, it tends to cover more and more people every year, as inflation drives up wages for everyone.

Congress keeps intervening — patching the law, if you will — and passing temporary, one-year measures that prevent the AMT from applying to middle-income workers.

If Congress fails to patch the AMT, it will mean a tax increase for millions of households.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

WAMU 88.5

Colson Whitehead On The Importance Of Historical Fiction In Tumultuous Times

Kojo talks with author Colson Whitehead about his new novel "The Underground Railroad" and its resonance at this particular moment in history.

NPR

Whales, Sea Turtles, Seals: The Unintended Catch Of Abandoned Fishing Gear

An endangered whale was found dead over the weekend, entangled in derelict fishing gear. Such incidents have been on the rise in recent years. A new California law aims to combat the problem.
WAMU 88.5

Rating The United States On Child Care

A majority of parents in the U.S. work outside the home. That means about 12 million children across the country require care. A new report ranks states on cost, quality and availability of child care - and says nobody is getting it right.

NPR

Tech Giants Team Up To Tackle The Ethics Of Artificial Intelligence

Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and IBM form a group to set the first industrywide best practices for the technology already powering many applications, such as voice and image recognition.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.