whether President Barack Obama or Republican Mitt Romney wins — is a looming deadline for across-the-board spending cuts and tax increases.
Government debt, which has soared above $16 trillion on Obama's watch, is a top concern among independent voters. And they're a much sought-after voting bloc these days, with the race a virtual dead heat.
Some $100 billion will be sliced from federal budgets and taxes will rise by $400 billion if the government goes over the so-called "fiscal cliff" in early January.
Eighty top U.S. business executives just put out a joint statement advocating bipartisan action to avoid going over that cliff by embracing both spending cuts and higher taxes — despite persistent GOP rhetoric against tax hikes.
The issue surfaced briefly in Monday's debate, with Obama flatly declaring the cuts and tax hikes "will not happen."
He later told the Des Moines Register he'd seek a "grand bargain" with Republicans "in the first six months" of a second term that would call for $2.50 in spending cuts for every dollar in new taxes.
But that echoes an earlier Obama formula calling for higher taxes on the wealthy, a move Republicans opposed.
A new Associated Press-GfK poll shows Romney favored by 47 percent of likely voters and Obama by 45 percent, a statistical tie. The electoral college math, however, still seems to narrowly favor Obama.
The president pressed ahead in his 48-hour, eight-state battleground blitz Thursday. "My voice is getting a little hoarse," he told an early rally in Tampa, Fla. "I'm just going to keep on keeping on."
Romney had three stops in crucial Ohio. "This president has no plan to get us to a balanced budget," he told a Cincinnati rally.
Actually, the plan Romney has detailed so far doesn't either.
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Eds: With 12 days left until Election Day, here are insights into today's highlights in U.S. politics