Timeline: America's long stumble toward the 'fiscal cliff'
Some of the steps along the way had good intentions. Some had no intention other than to avoid hard decisions. At the end of this month, major budget and tax decisions are converging in a challenge dubbed the "fiscal cliff." Will lawmakers rise to the occasion? Or will they delay again?
Here is a time line of how the country got where it is:
* 1998-2001. Long economic expansion of 1990s peaks. US government budget in surplus under President Bill Clinton.
* 2001. Stock market tech bubble bursts. President George W. Bush and Congress enact deep "temporary" tax cuts. Some Republicans predict cuts will spur economy, pay for themselves.
Sept. 11 attacks occur. United States and allies invade Afghanistan.
* 2002. After four years of surpluses, U.S. budget slips into deficit of $158 billion. Bear market in stocks.
* 2003. United States and allies invade Iraq. Bush and Congress cut taxes further. Deficit grows to $378 billion.
* 2004-2006. Stock market recovers. Deficit shrinks.
* 2007-2008. Housing market bubble bursts. World financial crisis. Stock market crashes. Worst U.S. recession since Great Depression. Unemployment, home foreclosures soar. Bush, Congress
bail out big banks. Deficit jumps to $459 billion in 2008.
* 2009. Obama, Congress enact $787 billion stimulus, including expanded "temporary" tax breaks for children, education. Auto industry bailed out. Recession ends midyear. Stock market bounces back. Deficit hits $1.4 trillion.
* 2010. Obama signs healthcare
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