Ever since the election the Wall Street gang has been trying to build up scare stories around the budget standoff between the President and the Republican House. The term "fiscal cliff" is a central part of this campaign since it implies that something ominous happens if there is no deal by the end of the year.
As every economist and budget analyst knows, it makes virtually no difference whatsoever if there is a deal 10 days before the end of the year or 10 days after. However if the Wall Street gang can build up enough fear then it will lead to more pressure to get a deal before the end of the year. Since President Obama will be on much better negotiating turf after the end of the year and the tax cuts have already expired, a deal struck this year will likely be more favorable to the Republicans.
The NYT seems to have joined in this effort, telling readers that we may "careen off the so-called fiscal cliff" if there is no deal. This sort of silly and inaccurate metaphor is best left for fiction. It has no place in a serious newspaper.