Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke is widely credited with coining "fiscal cliff," the ominous term that refers to $7 trillion in spending cuts and tax increases set to be triggered in January.
But the bearded man is the creator of neither the original term, nor its current usage.
"Fiscal cliff" is an expression that has been thrown around for decades with a variety of meanings. The earliest reference we could find was in this New York Times article about homeownership in 1957. Since then, the phrase has been used often by Republicans and Democrats alike in budget disagreements.
Take for example this official statement from Senator Jim DeMint, a Republican from South Carolina, in 2008.
"We are trillions of dollars in debt and Obama's massive new spending program threatens to send our nation over a fiscal cliff, leading to higher taxes and fewer jobs."
Fast forward to 2012: We now think of the "fiscal cliff" as a more specific term referring to the Bush tax cuts expiring on December 31 and the sequester on January 2. Bernanke thrust that meaning of the term into the public eye on February 29, 2012, when he spoke before the House Committee on Financial Services:
"Under current law, on January 1st, 2013, there is going to be a massive fiscal cliff of large spending cuts and tax increases. I hope that Congress will look at that and figure out ways to achieve the same long run fiscal improvement without having it all happen at -- at one date."
But Bernanke wasn't the originator of the current iteration either, as far as we can tell. Several Reuters articles had already used the phrase with that same definition two weeks earlier: "Geithner: year-end fiscal cliff to hit U.S. growth" for example.
And check out this excerpt from another Reuters article, "'Fiscal cliff' looms for United States in late '12," printed on February 17, 2012, before Bernanke's infamous testimony.
"Big tax and budget decisions will not confront U.S. lawmakers for months now that Congress has extended the payroll tax cuts, but a reckoning will be at hand in late 2012 and early 2013. It is being called the 'fiscal cliff' by some on Capitol Hill, and it will likely arrive after the Nov. 6 presidential and congressional elections. The elections are likely to involve intense debate about what should be done."
We reached out to Reuters to see if they would take credit for attaching the term to the current congressional kerfuffle, but alas, they denied the honor and reiterated it was already a common utterance among Beltway insiders.
"While we appreciate the compliment, the term 'fiscal cliff' was floating around Capitol Hill for some time before we printed it," Howard Goller, Washington editor of Reuters Professional News wrote in an email to CNNMoney.
The Fed -- not surprisingly -- had no comment.
A weak August jobs report signaled hiring continues to slog along at a snail's pace, giving the Federal Reserve even more reason to enact more stimulative measures -- possibly as soon as next week.
The economy added just 96,000 jobs in August. And even though the unemployment rate dipped to 8.1% from 8.3% in July, any number above 8% is still uncomfortably high for the Fed. (Inflation, on the other hand, is MOREAnnalyn Kurtz - Sep 7, 2012 10:21 AM ET
Martin Feldstein, an economics professor at Harvard, is an adviser to Republican nominee Mitt Romney. He served as the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under President Ronald Reagan.
We spoke with him at the Federal Reserve's economic symposium in Jackson Hole, Wyo., shortly after Ben Bernanke seemed to make a case for more stimulus from the central bank. Here's what Feldstein said were some of the potential risks:
The risk that MOREAnnalyn Kurtz - Sep 3, 2012 7:45 AM ET
Mario Draghi is skipping out on a key economic symposium in Jackson Hole, Wyo. , this weekend, to focus on more pressing issues on his home continent.
The President of the European Central Bank was originally scheduled to contribute to a panel discussion on Saturday. The Jackson Hole symposium is hosted by the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City every year, and includes top economists and the heads of central banks MOREAnnalyn Kurtz - Aug 28, 2012 10:24 AM ET
Rep. Ron Paul must be delighted. His pet project -- a bill to audit the Federal Reserve -- just passed the House and will move on to the Senate.
The bill's goal is not to be confused with a financial audit. Instead, it would open the Fed's decision making process up to a full investigation.
Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke called it a "nightmare scenario" in testimony last week, because he believes it MOREAnnalyn Kurtz - Jul 25, 2012 3:55 PM ET
The Federal Reserve announced Wednesday that it plans to extend "Operation Twist," a bond-swapping strategy designed to keep interest rates low in the future, thereby providing a measure of stimulus to the struggling economy.
Originally scheduled to end later this month, the program -- which swaps short-term bonds for ones with longer duration -- will now run through the end of the year.
Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke is expected to provide more MORECharles Riley - Jun 20, 2012 1:43 PM ET
The Federal Reserve's next policy meeting is a two-day session concluding on June 20. That's just ten days before the Fed's Operation Twist policy -- swapping short-term bonds for ones with longer duration to help keep 10-year and 30-year bond yields low -- expires. Up until recently, few expected the Fed would seriously consider extending Twist.
But what a difference a lousy job report makes. Atlanta Fed president Dennis Lockhart, who MOREPaul R. La Monica - Jun 6, 2012 10:18 AM ET
By now, you have probably heard of the "feud" taking place between Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke and Nobel-prize winning New York Times economic columnist Paul Krugman. And if you haven't, what the heck are you doing reading this blog?
Anyway, here's the lowdown in case you aren't up to speed. Krugman took Bernanke to task in a Sunday NYT magazine piece, criticizing Bernanke for not doing enough to tackle the MOREPaul R. La Monica - Apr 26, 2012 3:27 PM ET
Is this another one of the Fed's moves to increase transparency with the public? Or did #FedValentines push the central bank over the edge?
The Federal Reserve --historically known as one of the more hushed, stoic parts of government -- joined Twitter this morning. You can follow it at @federalreserve.
To start, the Fed said its first foray into tweeting won't consist of much more than press releases, speeches, testimony, reports to MOREAnnalyn Kurtz - Mar 14, 2012 10:20 AM ET
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