As President Obama gets closer to making his deal with the Republicans on the budget, the most important thing to keep in mind is that the fiscal cliff is an artificially contrived trap. Were it not for the two Bush wars and the two Bush tax cuts and the House Republican games of brinksmanship with the routine extension of the debt ceiling, there would be no "fiscal cliff."
Rather, there would be a normal, relatively short-term increase in the deficit resulting from a deep recession and the drop in government revenues that it produces. When the economy recovered, the deficit would return to sustainable levels. In the meantime, these deficits are necessary and useful to maintain public spending as a tonic to the economy.
In addition, there are two entirely extraneous questions that do not belong in this debate -- whether Social Security requires any long-term adjustment to assure its solvency, and if so, what kind; and how to restrain the long-term growth in Medicare spending.
In fact, if we get can get back to full employment, there is no Social Security crisis, because Social Security is financed by taxes on payrolls. In the Clinton era, when we had full employment, the crisis kept receding. If we want a little extra insurance, we can lift the cap on income subject to payroll taxes.
Medicare spending is a long-term problem that requires major structural reforms. Reducing benefits or raising the eligibility age in the heat of an artificially contrived fiscal crisis is the wrong way to proceed. Obama's Affordable Care Act will keep Medicare at roughly its present level of spending relative to GDP -- too high, but not an imminent catastrophe.
The strategy of the right-wing has been to blur these several distinct issues into a single grand fiscal crisis, the better to reduce government spending and especially to cut Social Security and Medicare.