Now just weeks away, a crisis looms that might touch every paycheck in the land, and government services from the border to national parks.

President Barack Obama and a divided Congress are trying to avert a series of end-of-the-year spending cuts and tax increases that’s been dubbed the fiscal cliff. They still disagree on how to do that.

Failure would mean that $500 billion in tax increases take effect early next year, coupled with $109 billion in spending reductions, the first installment toward $1.2 trillion in cuts over two years. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has said that might raise the unemployment rate to 9 percent or higher and push us back into a recession.

What is the fiscal cliff? How did we get to the edge? And what does it mean for Americans if the government goes over it?

Here are some answers…

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