The Federal deficit is the difference between the amount of money the government has as it prepares its budget and the amount of money it plans to spend (and so has to borrow). The Federal debt is the total amount of money owed by the Federal Government.
At the end of 2012 a series of tax hikes and spending cuts (sequestration) will automatically take place unless Congress and the President compromise on an alternative plan for deficit reduction. This is known as the Fiscal Cliff.Fiscal Cliff Interactive Timeline (Bipartisan Policy Center)
The Budget Control Act of 2011 is the legislation that raised the debt ceiling in August 2011.
mandates automatic, across-the-board spending cuts if compromise on a
plan for reducing the deficit by 1.2 trillion dollars is not reached
before a vote to raise the debt ceiling is again taken near the end of
Use this online simulator from The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget to stabilize the US debt at 60% of GDP by 2021.
Public Agenda's Federal Budget Issue Guide - Get multiple perspectives on the Federal deficit debate.
Times Topic: Federal Budget (The 'Fiscal Cliff') - Broaden your understanding of the Fiscal Cliff by perusing archived news coverage and reference materials compiled by The New York Times.
Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) - Look at the BPC's proposed Framework for a Grand Bargain to Avoid the "Fiscal Cliff."
Brookings Hot Topic: Budget Deficit - Find out what another highly respected non-partisan think-tank has to say about the deficit.
Congressional Budget Office (CBO) - View the Web site of the non-partisan legislative branch office that provides the data and analysis necessary for Congress to engage in the budget process. See what the CBO has to say about the choices facing Congress and the Nation.
Office of Management and Budget - Look at the Web site of the White House office that prepares the President's annual budget proposal.
National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform (Simpson-Bowles) - Read the Web site of the bi-partisan commission that President Obama appointed to recommend ways to balance the budget.
The Annual Budget Process - Learn how the Federal budget process works by reading this explanation from the U.S. Department of State.
Treasury Direct KIDS - Learn a lot about the debt when the U.S. Treasury Department attempts to explain it to kids.