(CNN Money) — Higher taxes on the nation’s top wage earners could give a needed jolt to the struggling U.S. economy. Or it could be the tipping point that topples the nation back into recession. That sums up the stakes in the debate over what to do when the so-called Bush tax cuts expire on Dec. 31. Commonly-accepted economic theory says that a weak economy is bad time for a tax increase, as higher taxes slow spending and thus economic activity. But with the federal government running record deficits and many economists calling for additional stimulus, there are those who believe higher taxes are needed to fill the gap.