Democratic Officials: Fiscal cliff deal reached - WXOW News 19 La Crosse, WI – News, Weather and Sports |

Democratic Officials: Fiscal cliff deal reached

WASHINGTON (AP) - Legislation to negate a fiscal cliff of across-the-board tax increases and sweeping spending cuts to the Pentagon and other government agencies is headed to the GOP-dominated House after bipartisan, middle-of-the-night approval in the Senate capped a New Year's Eve drama unlike any other in the annals of Congress.

The measure cleared the Senate on an 89-8 vote early Tuesday, hours after Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky sealed a deal.

It would prevent middle-class taxes from going up but would raise rates on higher incomes. It would also block spending cuts for two months, extend unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless, prevent a 27 percent cut in fees for doctors who treat Medicare patients and prevent a spike in milk prices.

The measure ensures that lawmakers will have to revisit difficult budget questions in just a few weeks, as relief from painful spending cuts expires and the government requires an increase in its borrowing cap.

House Speaker John Boehner pointedly refrained from endorsing the agreement, though he's promised a vote on it or a GOP alternative right away.

The measure is the first significant bipartisan tax increase since 1990, when former President George H.W. Bush violated his "read my lips" promise on taxes. It would raise an additional $620 billion over the coming decade when compared with revenues after tax cuts passed in 2001 and 2003, during the Bush administration. But because those policies expired at midnight Monday, the measure is officially scored as a whopping $3.9 trillion tax cut over the next decade.

President Barack Obama praised the agreement after the Senate's vote.

"While neither Democrats nor Republicans got everything they wanted, this agreement is the right thing to do for our country and the House should pass it without delay," Obama said in a statement. "This agreement will also grow the economy and shrink our deficits in a balanced way - by investing in our middle class, and by asking the wealthy to pay a little more."

The sweeping Senate vote exceeded expectations - tea party conservatives like Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and Ron Johnson, R-Wis., backed the measure - and would appear to grease enactment of the measure despite lingering questions in the House, where conservative forces sank a recent bid by Boehner to permit tax rates on incomes exceeding $1 million to go back to Clinton-era levels.

"Decisions about whether the House will seek to accept or promptly amend the measure will not be made until House members - and the American people - have been able to review the legislation," said a statement by Boehner and other top GOP leaders.

Lawmakers hope to resolve any uncertainty over the fiscal cliff before financial markets reopen Wednesday. It could take lots of Democratic votes to pass the measure and overcome opposition from tea party lawmakers.

Under the Senate deal, taxes would remain steady for the middle class but rise at incomes over $400,000 for individuals and $450,000 for couples - levels higher than President Barack Obama had campaigned for in his successful drive for a second term in office. Some liberal Democrats were disappointed that the White House did not stick to a harder line, while other Democrats sided with Republicans to force the White House to partially retreat on increases in taxes on multi-million-dollar estates.

The measure also allocates $24 billion in spending cuts and new revenues to defer, for two months, some $109 billion worth of automatic spending cuts that were set to slap the Pentagon and domestic programs starting this week. That would allow the White House and lawmakers time to regroup before plunging very quickly into a new round of budget brinkmanship, certain to revolve around Republican calls to rein in the cost of Medicare and other government benefit programs.

Officials also decided at the last minute to use the measure to prevent a $900 pay raise for lawmakers due to take effect this spring.

Even by the dysfunctional standards of government-by-gridlock, the activity at both ends of historic Pennsylvania Avenue was remarkable as the administration and lawmakers spent the final hours of 2012 haggling over long-festering differences.

Republicans said McConnell and Biden had struck an agreement Sunday night but that Democrats pulled back Monday morning. Democrats like Tom Harkin of Iowa said the agreement was too generous to upper-bracket earners. Obama's longstanding position was to push the top tax rate on family income exceeding $250,000 from 35 percent to 39 percent.

"No deal is better than a bad deal. And this look like a very bad deal," said Harkin.

The measure would raise the top tax rate on large estates to 40 percent, with a $5 million exemption on estates inherited from individuals and a $10 million exemption on family estates. At the insistence of Republicans and some Democrats, the exemption levels would be indexed for inflation.

Taxes on capital gains and dividends over $400,000 for individuals and $450,000 for couples would be taxed at 20 percent, up from 15 percent.

The bill would also extend jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed for an additional year at a cost of $30 billion, and would spend $31 billion to prevent a 27 percent cut in Medicare payments to doctors.

Another $64 billion would go to renew tax breaks for businesses and for renewable energy purposes, like tax credits for energy-efficient appliances.

Despite bitter battling over taxes in the campaign, even die-hard conservatives endorsed the measure, arguing that the alternative was to raise taxes on virtually every earner.

"I reluctantly supported it because it sets in stone lower tax rates for roughly 99 percent of American taxpayers," said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. "With millions of Americans watching Washington with anger, frustration and anxiety that their taxes will skyrocket, this is the best course of action we can take to protect as many people as possible from massive tax hikes."

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WASHINGTON (AP) - Racing the clock, the White House reached a New Year's Eve accord with Senate Republicans late Monday to block across-the-board tax increases and spending cuts in government programs due to take effect at midnight, according to administration and Senate Democratic officials.

Under the deal, taxes would remain steady for the middle class and rise at incomes over $400,000 for individuals and $450,000 for couples - levels higher than President Barack Obama had campaigned for in his successful drive for a second term in office.

Spending cuts aimed at the Pentagon and domestic programs would be deferred for two months. That would allow the White House and lawmakers time to regroup before plunging very quickly into a new round of budget brinkmanship certain to revolve around Republican calls to rein in the cost of Medicare and other government benefit programs.

Democratic officials said that barring opposition from majority Democrats, a late-night Senate vote was possible on the deal, which was brokered by Vice President Joseph Biden and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell.

Passage would send the measure to the House, where Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, refrained from endorsing a package as yet unseen by his famously rebellious rank-and-file.

The House Democratic leader, Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, issued a statement saying that when legislation clears the Senate, "I will present it to the House Democratic caucus."

Without legislation, economists in and out of government warned of a possible recession if the economy were allowed to fall over a fiscal cliff of tax increases and spending cuts.

And while the deadline to act was technically midnight, Obama's signature on legislation by the time a new Congress takes office at noon on Jan. 3, 2013 - the likely timetable - would eliminate or minimize any inconvenience for taxpayers.

Even by the dysfunctional standards of government-by-gridlock, the activity at both ends of historic Pennsylvania Avenue was remarkable as the administration and lawmakers spent the final hours of 2012 haggling over long-festering differences.

"One thing we can count on with respect to this Congress is that if there's even one second left before you have to do what you're supposed to do, they will use that last second," the president said in a mid-afternoon status update on the talks.

As darkness fell on the last day of the year, Obama, Biden and their aides were at work in the White House, and lights burned in the House and Senate. Democrats complained that Obama had given away too much in agreeing to limit tax increases to incomes over $450,000, far above the $250,000 level he campaigned on. Yet some Republicans recoiled at the prospect of raising taxes at all.

A late dispute over the estate tax produced allegations of bad faith from all sides.

After hours of haggling, Biden headed for the Capitol to brief the Democratic rank and file.

Earlier, McConnell had agreed with Obama that an overall deal was near. In remarks on the Senate floor, he suggested Congress move quickly to pass tax legislation and "continue to work on finding smarter ways to cut spending" next year.

The White House and Democrats initially declined the offer, preferring to prevent the cuts from kicking in at the Pentagon and domestic agencies alike. A two-month compromise resulted.

Officials in both parties said the agreement would prevent tax increases at incomes below $400,000 for individuals and $450,000 for couples.

At higher levels, the rate would rise to a maximum of 39.6 percent from the current 35 percent.

The deal also would also raise taxes on the portion of estates exceeding $5 million to 40 percent. At the

insistence of Republicans, the $5 million threshold would rise each year with inflation.

Much or all of the revenue to be raised through higher taxes on the wealthy would help hold down the amount paid to the Internal Revenue Service by the middle class.

In addition to preventing higher rates for most, any agreement would retain existing breaks for families with children, for low-earning taxpayers and for those with a child in college.

The legislation leaves untouched a scheduled 2 percentage point increase in the payroll tax, ending a temporary reduction enacted two years ago to help revive the economy.

Officials said the White House had succeeded in gaining a one-year extension of long-term unemployment benefits about to expire on an estimated two million jobless.

It was unclear whether the legislation would prevent a 27 percent cut in fees for doctors who treat Medicare patients was unknown. Nor did officials immediately say if it would include a provision to block a near-doubling of milk prices.

Even as time was running out, partisan agendas were evident.

Obama used his appearance not only to chastise Congress, but also to lay down a marker for the next round of negotiations early in 2013, when Republicans intend to seek spending cuts in exchange for letting the Treasury to borrow above the current debt limit of $16.4 trillion.

"Now, if Republicans think that I will finish the job of deficit reduction through spending cuts alone - and you hear that sometimes coming from them ... then they've got another think coming. ... That's not how it's going to work at least as long as I'm president," he said.

"And I'm going to be president for the next four years, I think," he added.

Obama's remarks irritated some Republicans.

Sen. John McCain of Arizona said they would "clearly antagonize members of the House."

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- A Democratic aide says the White House and congressional Republicans have reached an agreement to avert the so-called fiscal cliff.

The measure would extend Bush-era tax cuts for family incomes below $450,000 and briefly avert across-the-board spending cuts set to strike the Pentagon and domestic agencies this week.

Vice President Joe Biden was set to sell the agreement to Senate Democrats at a meeting at the Capitol on Monday night.

The aide required anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak publicly.

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WASHINGTON (WXOW) -- It appears the country will go over the fiscal cliff.

House Republicans notified lawmakers that the chamber will vote Monday evening on other bills, which will be their only votes of the day.

It's unclear whether the Senate would vote Monday.

Earlier in the day, President Barack Obama said that it looked like an agreement was within sight.

If no agreement is in place by the midnight deadline, wide-ranging tax increases and spending cuts will take effect.

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WASHINGTON (WXOW) - President Barack Obama says it appears that an agreement to avoid the fiscal cliff is "in sight," but says it's not yet complete and work continues.

Obama says this has been a "pressing issue on people's minds," and tells an audience of middle-class taxpayers the deal would, among other things, extend unemployment benefits for Americans "who are still out there looking for a job."

He voiced regret that the work of the administration and lawmakers on Capitol Hill won't produce a "grand bargain" on tax-and-spend issues, but said that "with this Congress, it couldn't happen at that time."

Officials familiar with the negotiations say an agreement would raise tax rates on family income over $450,000 a year and increase the estate tax rate.

The president made his comments from the White House.

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- The contours of a deal to avert the `fiscal cliff' are emerging that would raise tax rates on couples making over $450,000 a year, raise the estate tax rate and extend unemployment benefits for one year.

That's according to officials familiar with the negotiations.

The deal in the works would return tax rates on families making over $450,000 to 39.6 percent. The tax on estates worth more than $5 million would increase to 40 percent. And unemployment benefits would continue for one year.

The officials say the White House and Republicans are at an impasse over what to do about automatic, across-the-board spending cuts set to begin taking effect on Jan. 1. Democrats want to put off the cuts for one year.

The officials requested anonymity in order to discuss the internal negotiations.

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- Democrats and Republicans say signs of progress are emerging in urgent negotiations to avert the looming `fiscal cliff' ahead of a midnight deadline.

A person familiar with the negotiations says Democrats have offered to extend tax cuts for families making up to $450,000 a year and individuals making up to $400,000. President Barack Obama originally wanted the tax cuts to be extended only for families making up to $250,000 a year.

Unless an agreement is reached and approved by Congress by the start of New Year's Day, more than $500 billion in 2013 tax increases will begin to take effect and $109 billion will be carved from defense and domestic programs

The person familiar with the talks requested anonymity in order to discuss the internal negotiations.

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- The key sticking points remain the same -- taxing the wealthy and cutting the budget to pay for Democratic spending proposals.

The one thing different is that the deadline to avert the so-called fiscal cliff is getting closer -- it's midnight tonight.

Vice President Joe Biden, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and top administration bargainer Rob Nabors worked late last night in hopes of settling those differences. And the House and Senate plan to meet today.

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The top Senate negotiators on the effort to prevent the government from going over the "fiscal cliff" are offering a pessimistic assessment barely 24 hours before a deadline to avert tax hikes on virtually every worker.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell says he's yet to receive a response to an offer he made on Saturday evening to Majority Leader Harry Reid. The Kentucky Republican says he's reached out to Vice President Joe Biden in hopes of breaking the impasse and a McConnell spokesman confirmed the two have spoken.

Reid says he's been trying to come up with a counteroffer but has been unable to do so. He says he's been in frequent contact with President Barack Obama, who in an interview on NBC's "Meet the Press" blamed Republicans for putting the nation's shaky economy at risk.

The pessimistic turn came as the House and Senate returned to the Capitol for a rare Sunday session. The fate of the negotiations remain in doubt before the beginning of a new year that would trigger across-the-board tax increases and spending cuts that leaders in both parties have said they want to avoid.

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