SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Nation/World

January 1, 2013

Democratic officials: Deal reached on 'fiscal cliff'

WASHINGTON — Racing the clock, the White House reached a New Year’s Eve accord with Senate Republicans late yesterday 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.

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