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Raise taxes and cut spending, business economists say

As Congress and the White House hurtle toward the year-end “fiscal cliff,” American business economists would like to see them balance the federal budget with a combination of spending cuts and tax increases, a recent survey found.

They also think uncertainty about what Congress will do is holding back the economic recovery

A survey by the National Association for Business Economics released Monday also found that two-thirds of those who responded support regulations that would prohibit banks from trading for their own accounts. But only half of the group think those that are “too big to fail’ should be broken up; a third opposed the idea.

Most of them think Congress should wait until 2014 before raising tax rates. Only a small minority favor a permanent extension of lower payroll tax rates. A higher percentage — between 35 percent and 45 percent — favor permanent extension of current tax rates on income, dividends, and capital gains.

Three-quarters of them think short-term interest rates will stay “about where they are today” over the next 12 months, but the group gave the Federal Reserve mixed marks on its efforts to revive the economy.

A slim majority thinks the central bank’s easy money policy has been a success, but only one-quarter thought the Fed’s latest round of pump-priming was a good idea. The survey was taken in August, before the Fed’s Open Market Committee announced a third round of so-called “quantitative easing” earlier this month. Nearly 60 percent said the FOMC shouldn’t move ahead with another round of QE bond buying

Despite the Fed’s multi-trillion-dollar injection of cash into the economy since the financial collapse of 2008, most economists say they’re not worried about inflation. Though one-third thinks that inflation will be “significantly above” the Fed’s 2 percent target in five years, more than 60 percent believe inflation will be “near” that 2 percent target. Only 4 percent project that inflation will be “significantly below” target in five years.

On energy issues, the group generally favors approval of the Keystone pipeline to transport oil from Canada to refineries in the United States. A smaller majority supports national regulations covering natural gas fracking, which is the process used to extract natural gas by forcing chemical-laced water and sand into the rock to expand cracks and fissures. Critics say the process pollutes ground water.

The economists are evenly split on whether the government should subsidize development of alternative energy sources.

The group was also divided on health care reform. Though a slim majority thinks Congress should not repeal the Affordable Care Act, 40 percent support repeal.  But about three-quarters think that health care costs will continue to grow as a share of GDP over the coming decade if the Affordable Care Act is not repealed, and nearly 60 percent think fewer employers will offer health care coverage for their workers over the next ten years.

The economists are also convinced that European leaders won’t be able to head off the departure of one or more of its weaker members from the common currency. More than 60 percent believes five years from now, the European Monetary Union will have lost at least one of its current 17 member countries.

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CNBC's Eamon Javers reports why both political parties may be willing to let the nation fall off the fiscal cliff.